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How to Know if Someone You Love is Depressed

Posted on: March 31st, 2020

If you’ve ever tried to support a parent, child, friend, or sibling facing depression, then you already know how much of a challenge it can be to offer help.  Many folks often report feeling helpless, not knowing what to do to help their loved one feel better or to get them to the resources that could give them appropriate treatment.  Here are some ways you can offer support and understanding:

Learn the symptoms of depression

This can vary from person to person. Learn more about What Is Depression.

Notice if there are problems in daily activities (i.e. work, school, social activities, or relationships with others).  Some folks may report feeling miserable or unhappy without knowing why.  Children may appear more irritable or cranky rather than sad.

Encourage Treatment

People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they’re depressed. They may not be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression, so they may think their feelings are normal.

People often feel ashamed about their depression and mistakenly believe they should be able to overcome it with willpower alone. However, depression seldom gets better without treatment and may get worse. 

Here’s what can be done to help.

  • Talk to the person about what you’ve noticed and why you’re concerned.
  • Explain that depression is a medical condition, not a personal flaw or weakness — and that it usually gets better with treatment.
  • Suggest seeking help from a professional — a medical doctor or a mental health provider, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist.
  • Offer to help prepare a list of questions to discuss in an initial appointment with a doctor or mental health provider.
  • Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going along to them and attending family therapy sessions.
  • If your loved one’s illness is severe or potentially life-threatening, contact a doctor, a hospital or emergency medical services.

Identify warning signs of worsening depression.

Everyone experiences depression differently. Observe your loved one. Learn how depression affects your family member or friend — and learn what to do when it gets worse. Observe behavior, triggers or circumstances that make the depression worse.  Also, notice any activities that are helpful in improving the situation.  

Encourage your loved one to work with his or her doctor or mental health provider to come up with a plan for what to do when signs and symptoms reach a certain point. This may include: 

  • Contacting the doctor to see about adjusting or changing medications
  • Seeing a psychotherapist, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist
  • Taking self-care steps, such as being sure to eat healthy meals, get an appropriate amount of sleep and be physically active

Understand Suicide Risk

People with depression are at an increased risk of suicide. If your loved one is severely depressed, prepare yourself for the possibility that at some point he or she may feel suicidal. Take all signs of suicidal behavior seriously and act immediately.

Take action if necessary:

  • Talk to the person about your concern. Ask if he or she has been thinking about attempting suicide or has a plan for how to do it. Having an actual plan indicates a higher likelihood of attempting suicide. 
  • Seek help. Contact the person’s doctor, mental health provider or other health care professional. Let other family members or close friends know what’s going on.
  • Call a suicide hotline number. In the United States, you can reach the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to talk to a trained counselor. Use that same number and press “1” to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • Make sure the person is in a safe environment. If possible, eliminate things that could be used to attempt suicide. For example, remove or lock up firearms, other weapons and medications.
  • Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately if the person is in danger of self-harm or suicide. Make sure someone stays with that person at all times.

For warning signs of suicide refer to the following link
7 Simple Steps For Suicide Prevention

What you can do for your loved one:

  • Encourage sticking with treatment. Help your loved one to remember to take prescribed medications and to keep appointments.
  • Be willing to listen. Let your loved one know that you want to understand how he or she feels. When the person wants to talk, listen carefully, but avoid giving advice or opinions or making judgments. 
  • Give positive reinforcement. People with depression may judge themselves harshly and find fault with everything they do. Remind your loved one about his or her positive qualities and how much the person means to you and others.
  • Offer assistance. Your relative or friend may not be able to take care of certain tasks well. Give suggestions about specific tasks you’d be willing to do or ask if there is a particular task that you could take on. 
  • Help create a low-stress environment. Creating a regular routine may help a person with depression feel more in control. Offer to make a schedule for meals, medication, physical activity, and sleep, and help organize household chores.
  • Locate helpful organizations. A number of organizations offer support groups, counseling and other resources for depression. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, employee assistance programs and many faith-based organizations offer help for mental health concerns.
  • Encourage participation in spiritual practice, if appropriate. For many people, faith is an important element in recovery from depression — whether it’s involvement in an organized religious community or personal spiritual beliefs and practices.
  • Make plans together. Ask your loved one to join you on a walk, see a movie with you, or work with you on a hobby or other activity he or she previously enjoyed. But don’t try to force the person into doing something.

What you can do for yourself:

  • Learn about depression. The better you understand what causes depression, how it affects people and how it can be treated, the better you’ll be able to talk to and help the person you care about.
  • Take care of yourself. Supporting someone with depression isn’t easy. Ask other relatives or friends to help, and take steps to prevent becoming frustrated or burned out. Find your own time for hobbies, physical activity, friends and spiritual renewal.
  • Be patient. Depression symptoms do improve with treatment, but it can take time. Finding the best treatment may require trying more than one type of medication or treatment approach. For some people, symptoms quickly improve after starting treatment. For others, it will take longer.

Remember that your loved one’s depression isn’t anyone’s fault. While you can’t fix the person’s depression, your support and understanding can help.  Need additional help with depression?  Contact me at SHCS.