Depression is one of the most common mental health illness diagnoses, affecting nearly one in 10 adult Americans. Sometimes depression is mild but persistent. This is known as dysthymia. Other times depression is severe. This is called major or clinical depression. Regardless of whether the person you love is experiencing either type of depression, it can be difficult to know how to help. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Ask Questions
Try to avoid the phrase “I know how you feel”. Instead, try asking pointed questions. Your loved one may have difficulty putting their current state into words with an open-ended question like “What’s wrong?” but specific questions can be helpful. Try questions like:
- When did you start feeling this way?
- Any idea what might have triggered your feelings?
- Does anything help you to feel better?
- Does anything make you feel even worse?
2. Look for Ways to Alleviate Stress
As a friend or family member you can’t necessarily remove sources of stress, but you can look for ways to lighten some of the pressure. Stress is a major contributor to depression so lowering it will really help. Try:
- Picking up children from school or activities or watching them for a few hours each week
- Give a coupon for a therapeutic massage (you may have to drive them there)
- Offer to go with them on a walk, bike ride or picnic (they may resist but keep asking since sunshine and activity are mood-elevating)
3. Speak About Their Positive Qualities
It’s easy for a depressed person to get lost in self-reproach. What can really help is a positive outside perspective on who they really are. Take every opportunity to tell them how you see them: kind, intelligent, determined, empathetic, funny or witty.
One of the best things you can do for your loved one is to suggest they talk with a professional about their depression. Counselors at Family Guidance understand all kinds of depression and know how to help your loved one find their way out. Act and speak wisely with your struggling loved one, but don’t be afraid to encourage a call for help.