We Ask a Therapist: How Do I Help a Loved One with Depression?

If you suspect that someone close to you is depressed, knowing how to support them through it can be a challenge. Maybe you’ve tried talking to them, but they brushed you off or seemed agitated. Or perhaps you’ve invited them to do things and they continue to raincheck on plans. Still, you want to show up for them somehow, but you’re not sure what to do. That’s why we asked two mental health experts for some guidance on how to help loved ones with depression.

Meet the Experts:

“Mental health conditions like depression will manifest differently depending on the individual, so I recommend tailoring your approach to supporting your loved one based on what will resonate with them,” says Dr. Patel-Dunn. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. However, there are a number of actions you can take to help a loved one experiencing depression that lets them know you’re there for them.”

1. Start a Conversation

People will often ask, “what’s wrong with you?” which can come off as accusatory and causes people to shut down. Instead, Hafeez recommends opening with something like, “I noticed you haven’t been yourself lately, and that’s ok, is there anything I can help with?”

2. Encourage Them to Do Small Things

“When someone is depressed, it can be hard to get out of bed and put one foot in front of another. Try to be a subtle cheerleader and encourage them to do manageable things to get out of the house like going for a car ride, accompanying you on an errand or walking around the block. Anything that gets them out of the four walls of their home is a step in the right direction,” says Hafeez.

3. Help Them Seek Therapy

“If you feel comfortable, you might want to speak openly about your own experiences with mental health or therapy. You can also offer to help them with identifying and making an appointment with a mental health professional or driving them to and from appointments,” shares Patel-Dunn. “If they have caregiver responsibilities, you can offer to step in while they’re taking their appointment,” she adds.

Other ways to support someone experiencing depression that may seem like small actions but can make a big difference include just being there for them and listening without judgment, helping them with tasks around the house or cooking meals, and checking in with them regularly.  

What do you do when the person you're trying to reach isn't receptive to the idea of seeking professional help? 

“It’s challenging when someone you care about refuses to get help, but it can push them in the opposite direction if you're too forceful,” says Hafeez. “Gently testing the boundaries and giving them the power to choose is your best bet.”

We asked her what this looks like in practice, and she offered some guidelines:

  • First, know the treatment options that are available by researching nearby centers, support groups and local mental health professionals. You can do your homework by investigating the admissions processes and insurance requirements without committing to anything.
  • Ask your loved one again if they would be willing to get help based on the information you have accumulated. Assure them that they can take time to consider it.
  • Without appearing judgmental, ask them what their concerns are regarding getting help. Your answers might be able to allay some of their concerns. You can offer to accompany them to their first appointment if they agree.

Note: If they express feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or suicidal ideations, get help immediately. “Contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or take your loved one to the nearest emergency room. Stay with your loved one in a safe, monitored environment,” advises Patel-Dunn.

How do you take care of yourself in the process of trying to show up for someone else? 

“It’s important to recognize our own limitations when it comes to supporting a loved one through their mental health journey. We can provide comfort and resources but, ultimately, they must make the decision about seeking treatment,” says Patel-Dunn.

She adds that if you’re supporting a loved one with a mental health condition, you shouldn’t be shy about reaching out for support for yourself. “Sometimes just sharing our experience with a mental health clinician can be incredibly powerful. It’s so important to practice self-care and prioritize our own mental health to ensure we can support the other relationships in our lives.”

For some ways to do this, Hafeez recommends the following:

  • Get adequate sleep and eat a nutritious diet
  • Find time for 30 minutes of exercise several times a week
  • Do your best to stick to your normal routine
  • Talk to a mental health counselor or support group to guide you
  • Establish a boundary between urgent and non-urgent texts or calls so that you don’t have to stop your life each time a correspondence comes through. She recommends having a code word or blocking out times when your loved can call, with emergencies being an exception

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Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...