We all want our loved ones to be happy, and when you’re caring for someone who is struggling with depression, it’s common to feel hopeless or stuck. Whomever it is in your life that has depression, whether it’s your friend, spouse, or family member, it can be painful to watch them suffer and feel like you can’t help. The good news is, you can help. Below are some “do’s” and “don’ts” when supporting your loved one who has depression.
- Acknowledge that the person exists and has real emotions. They may feel alone or that no one can relate to them, so keep them engaged and ask about their opinions and feelings. Let them know that they do matter.
- Remind them of what their coping tools are to help them effectively manage their mood. If there’s something they’ve done in the past (e.g., mindfulness techniques, reframing negative/ irrational thoughts, positive self-coping statements, etc.) that helped, encourage them to do it again.
- Encourage them to open up and not isolate themselves. Suggest that they participate in social outings and remind them why it’s important to reach out, even if it’s just for 10 min a day.
- Look out for red flags: major changes in behaviors, appetite, weight gain/loss, sleep, reduced energy, poor concentration, more isolation. The more you are aware of their behaviors and attitudes, the better equipped you will be to help.
- Encourage them to see their therapist and continue with any medication if they’re taking them. If they stopped seeing their therapist or taking their medication, talk to them about it, but be careful not to judge or scold them.
- Don’t assume how they’re feeling. Ask them how they’re feeling, even if you think you know, and just listen.
- Never say they should or shouldn’t feel a certain way. This will discourage them from opening up to you and getting the help they need.
- Don’t tell them they don’t have a reason to be depressed. Even if their life seems like it’s going well on the surface, they may still suffer from depression. [Additional reading: How to Tell People You’re Depressed When Your Life Seems OK]
- Don’t try to force them to change. It may be a slow process, and take its toll on you, but you can’t force them or guilt them into getting better, especially on your timeline. They may already feel guilt and shame, and being negative will make things worse. Instead, shift your focus away from the destruction their depression is creating and onto how they’re feeling and what you can both do to improve their situation. You can acknowledge the consequences of their depression, just don’t dwell on it. It’s important to be goal oriented.
- Don’t be afraid to ask about suicide. Ask them if they’ve thought about suicide and look out for warning signs, such as giving away prized possessions, saying goodbye to loved ones, repetitive comments referring to morbid topics, saying they have no purpose in life or reason to live, saying they feel like a burden to others, reckless behavior, increased isolation, etc. Talking about suicide doesn’t put the idea into their head or encourage them to act on it. It’s important to openly talk about it so if they ever do have suicidal thoughts, they know they can come to you for help. The worst thing we can do is ignore the problem and never provide our loved one the opportunity to feel safe enough to reach out.
The goal isn’t to fix or cure your loved one, or solve their problems. It’s not your job to do that. Your role is to provide support. You can ALWAYS provide support and just be there for them. If you are feeling helpless, change your purpose: be a listener, remind them of what works for them, or be a cheerleader. Do things that are possible and attainable, and you won’t feel discouraged or helpless. Your job isn’t to make them happy – you don’t have that power. When you feel discouraged or hopeless, it can add to their struggles and make them feel worse. Let them know you’re there for them so they don’t feel alone – ANYONE CAN DO THAT.
If you need additional guidance on how to be supportive, or if you are struggling with depression, Serenity Lane Psychological Services offers therapy for both caregivers and those with mental illness. To learn more, contact Dr. Heather Violante so you can start your journey towards inner peace and happiness.