TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF WHILE SUPPORTING A LOVED ONE
If someone you love is depressed, you may be experiencing any number of difficult emotions, including helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, and sadness. These feelings are all normal. It’s not easy dealing with a friend or family member’s depression. And if you don’t take care of yourself, it can become overwhelming.
That said, there are steps you can take to help your loved one. Start by learning about depression and how to talk about it with your friend or family member. But as you reach out, don’t forget to look after your own emotional health. Thinking about your own needs is not an act of selfishness—it’s a necessity. Your emotional strength will allow you to provide the ongoing support your depressed friend or family member needs.
Understanding depression in a friend or family member:
- Depression is a serious condition. Don’t underestimate the seriousness of depression. Depression drains a person’s energy, optimism, and motivation. Your depressed loved one can’t just “snap out of it” by sheer force of will.
- The symptoms of depression aren’t personal. Depression makes it difficult for a person to connect on a deep emotional level with anyone, even the people he or she loves most. In addition, depressed people often say hurtful things and lash out in anger. Remember that this is the depression talking, not your loved one, so try not to take it personally.
- Hiding the problem won’t make it go away. Don’t be an enabler. It doesn’t help anyone involved if you are making excuses, covering up the problem, or lying for a friend or family member who is depressed. In fact, this may keep the depressed person from seeking treatment.
- You can’t “fix” someone else’s depression. Don’t try to rescue your loved one from depression. It’s not up to you to fix the problem, nor can you. You’re not to blame for your loved one’s depression or responsible for his or her happiness (or lack thereof). Ultimately, recovery is in the hands of the depressed person.
Is my friend or family member depressed?Family and friends are often the first line of defense in the fight against depression. That’s why it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of depression. You may notice the problem in a depressed loved one before he or she does, and your influence and concern can motivate that person to seek help.
Signs that your friend or family member may be depressed
- He or she doesn’t seem to care about anything anymore.
- He or she is uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, critical, or moody.
- He or she has lost interest in work, sex, hobbies, and other pleasurable activities.
- He or she talks about feeling “helpless” or “hopeless.”
- He or she expresses a bleak or negative outlook on life.
- He or she frequently complains of aches and pains such as headaches, stomach problems, and back pain.
- He or she complains of feeling tired and drained all the time.
- He or she has withdrawn from friends, family, and other social activities.
- He or she is either sleeping less than usual or oversleeping.
- He or she is eating either more or less than usual, and has recently gained or lost weight.
- He or she has become indecisive, forgetful, disorganized, and “out of it.”
- He or she is drinking more or abusing drugs, including prescription sleeping pills and painkillers.
Ways to start the conversation:
- I have been feeling concerned about you lately.
- Recently, I have noticed some differences in you and wondered how you are doing.
- I wanted to check in with you because you have seemed pretty down lately.
Questions you can ask:
- When did you begin feeling like this?
- Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?
- How can I best support you right now?
- Do you ever feel so bad that you don’t want to be anymore?
- Have you thought about getting help?
What you can say that helps:
- You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
- You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
- I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
- When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold of for just one more day, hour, minute — whatever you can manage.
- You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
- Tell me what I can do now to help you.
- It’s all in your head.
- We all go through times like this.
- Look on the bright side.
- You have so much to live for why do you want to die?
- I can’t do anything about your situation.
- Just snap out of it.
- What’s wrong with you?
- Shouldn’t you be better by now?
Encouraging a depressed person to get helpGetting a depressed person into treatment can be difficult. Depression saps energy and motivation, so even the act of making an appointment or finding a doctor can seem daunting. Depression also involves negative ways of thinking. The depressed person may believe that the situation is hopeless and treatment pointless.
Because of these obstacles, getting your loved one to admit to the problem—and helping him or her see that it can be solved—is an essential step in depression recovery.
If your friend or family member resists getting help for depression:
- Suggest a general check-up with a physician. Your loved one may be less anxious about seeing a family doctor than a mental health professional. A regular doctor’s visit is actually a great option, since the doctor can rule out medical causes of depression. If the doctor diagnoses depression, he or she can refer your loved one to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Sometimes, this “professional” opinion makes all the difference.
- Offer to help your depressed loved one find a doctor or therapist and go with them on the first visit. Finding the right treatment provider can be difficult, and is often a trial-and-error process. For a depressed person already low on energy, it is a huge help to have assistance making calls and looking into the options.
- Encourage your loved one to make a thorough list of symptoms and ailments to discuss with the doctor. You can even bring up things that you have noticed as an outside observer, such as, “You seem to feel much worse in the mornings,” or “You always get stomach pains before work.”
Supporting the depression treatment processOne of the most important things you can do to help a friend or relative with depression is to give your unconditional love and support throughout the treatment process. This involves being compassionate and patient, which is not always easy when dealing with the negativity, hostility, and moodiness that go hand in hand with depression.
- Provide whatever assistance the person needs (and is willing to accept). Help your loved one make and keep appointments, research treatment options, and stay on schedule with any treatment protocols.
- Have realistic expectations. It can be frustrating to watch a depressed friend or family member struggle, especially if progress is slow or stalled. Having patience is important. Even with optimal treatment, recovery from depression doesn’t happen overnight.
- Lead by example. Encourage your friend or family member to lead a healthier, mood-boosting lifestyle by doing it yourself: maintain a positive outlook, eat better, avoid alcohol and drugs, exercise, and lean on others for support.
- Encourage activity. Invite your loved one to join you in uplifting activities, like going to a funny movie or having dinner at a favorite restaurant. Exercise is especially helpful, so try to get your depressed loved one moving. Going on walks together is one of the easiest options. Be gently and lovingly persistent—don’t get discouraged or stop asking.
- Pitch in when possible. Seemingly small tasks can be hard for a depressed person to manage. Offer to help out with household responsibilities or chores, but only do what you can without getting burned out yourself!
Original version found at http://www.helpguide.org/mental/living_depressed_person.htm