Supporting someone with depression can sometimes feel like an impossible task. You may be caught in a distressing limbo, desperately wanting to help but at the same time be afraid to make things worse. This confusion can lead to feeling distant or that you aren’t giving them enough space. It can feel like you aren’t providing enough help or that you’re just giving bad advice. You may be left feeling helpless, frustrated, and at a loss for ideas. Ultimately, it might feel like you’re fighting a ghost. However, all hope isn’t lost.
The help that you can provide is incredibly important, and here are the 7 best and most effective ways that you can do so:
Do research about depression
If you’re here and reading this, then you’ve already ticked the first one off the list! One of the most important ways to help someone who’s depressed is to do your utmost to understand what they’re going through. Doing research about the causes, symptoms, and nature of the condition will mean that you’re better prepared to offer positive support and avoid making a misstep while doing so.
Be physically and emotionally available
We all have very busy lives, but it’s crucial to carve out time if you’re serious about being a reliable support for a loved one. Isolation is a very common symptom of depression, and physical contact can help to alleviate the feeling. Whether it’s a hug or a back rub, a display of physical affection can go a long way! The same is true emotionally – it’s vital to provide emotional warmth to remind the person of positive emotions and to show them that they’re loved.
Don’t give unsolicited advice
Individuals with depression can feel very detached from reality and other people. This is often accompanied by a feeling of not being understood. Unsolicited advice can therefore be counter-productive, as most people won’t want to hear advice from someone who doesn’t ‘understand’ what they’re going through. It can make them feel demeaned and belittled. If they ask for advice specifically, then they’ll probably be more likely to listen and gain something positive from it.
Don’t diminish or disrespect their feelings
Even if what they’re feeling seems illogical and irrational to you, it doesn’t to them. Their depression is part of their reality, so diminishing that will make them feel even more disillusioned and detached. We sometimes like to downplay problems as a strategy to make them seem more conquerable, but what seems like molehills to us can seem like mountains to someone with depression. Trivialising these problems may just make your loved one feel ashamed that they can’t overcome something which is perceived as being so minor.
Rephrase your comments to make them more positive
It’s crucial that any support you provide is sympathetic with their experiences. Many people often adopt a ‘tough-love’ approach, making comments about the person “spending the day in bed” or “lazing around all day”. Even though being sedentary is a problematic offshoot of depression, it’s far more beneficial to rephrase your comment in a positive way. Instead, you might say something like “I’m really sorry that you’re feeling low on energy today, can I make dinner for you?”. This avoids sounding condescending, with the focus instead on a caring action.
Ask “How can I help?”
Most people are generally well informed about the symptoms of depression. They can identify that someone seems to be very lethargic, upset, has developed irregular sleeping patterns, etc. Far fewer people know what to say about them. The phrase “How can I help?” is possibly the most important when supporting someone with depression – it’s a tangible display of care and allows them to provide an answer that based on how they specifically feel.
Be patient and commit to helping
One of the few things more detrimental than a depressive person receiving no help is receiving help that is suddenly taken away. People can often become exasperated and frustrated if they feel like their loved one isn’t improving or their advice isn’t being taken, and it’s tempting to just give up. Supporting someone with depression can be difficult, but it’s so important to show patience and to understand that there will be ups and downs. These steps can be very beneficial, but it’s a process that takes time!