It can be heartbreaking to watch someone you love struggle with depression. While you may want to try anything you can to help, a measured, informed approach to support is often the most effective way to be there for a loved one.
You notice that someone you love seems to be slipping away. They are withdrawn, quiet, and sad. They may be irritable, and lash out if you try to ask what’s wrong. You are worried and unsure of how to help.
If a friend, family member or partner is struggling with depression, it is normal to want to help them feel better. When this drive to provide support is combined with an awareness of what depression is, your ability to give the right kind of help is strengthened. For loved ones living with depression, knowledgeable and compassionate support can be useful in helping them cope with a depressive episode.
To be able to support someone with depression, it is important to understand what it is. Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, and lack of motivation or interest. Depression affects the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves, and can also manifest in physical pain and discomfort.
While depression is one of the most common mental health conditions, the exact causes of it are still unknown. However, research has shown that depression is linked to a variety of factors, including biological differences in the brain, hormones, neurochemistry, and inherited traits. Depression is not something you can simply “snap out of,” or “get a grip on.” It is a complex and chronic medical condition that requires holistic treatment and management in order to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.
What are Symptoms of Depression?
Though many people associate depression with sadness, this is only one of many symptoms that can indicate someone is depressed. Depression can present with a wide variety of symptoms including:
- Persistent feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Lack of attention to personal grooming, hygiene, safety, or health
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Ongoing sadness, anxiety, anger or irritability
- Compulsive and risky behaviour such as shopping sprees, unsafe sex, or gambling
- Heightened emotional response to seemingly mundane things
- Forgetfulness, lack of focus
- Overuse of the Internet
- Substance abuse
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
These symptoms can be overwhelming and exhausting, creating significant negative impacts to daily routines as well as one’s work and family life. Without treatment, depression often worsens, underscoring the importance of care and support for someone living with this condition.
Why Might it be Hard for Those with Depression to Ask for Help?
It is not uncommon for someone with depression to isolate or withdraw, shutting down communication with loved ones. For those around them, this can be confusing, particularly when they very much want to help someone feel better. However, there are many reasons behind why someone with depression chooses not to reach out.
It is not something you can just talk through
People living with depression often know that a depressive episode can come on for no discernible reason, and may feel like they just have to get through it. They realise that a loved one cannot simply fix it, no matter how much they want to help or how committed they are. They may be reluctant to “bring someone else down,” by talking about it, or might feel that talking about it actually makes them feel worse.
People don’t always respond well
In an attempt to try and make someone feel better, people who have not experienced depression may offer up their own explanations for why they think someone is depressed, give suggestions on what to do, or link it back to a feeling or experience they may have had. Sometimes friends or family might get annoyed or upset if they feel like their support isn’t effective or isn’t garnering their desired response. Unfortunately, this typically serves to make those living with depression feel unseen, misunderstood, or judged for their reactions, and therefore less likely to share their feelings.
It can be physically difficult to reach out
Depression is often linked to extreme fatigue, and can cause a slowed motor response. This can affect speech, making talking feel like an effort for those with depression. This exhaustion is often also felt mentally, and can make it difficult to find words or organise thoughts to describe what’s going on.
What Can We Do to Help a Loved One with Depression?
If you don’t have depression, it is important to remember that you cannot know how it feels. Many of us tend to try and draw on our own experiences to offer advice to others when they are going through a difficult period. While this is often well-intentioned, it is not useful for someone living with depression, and can actually make people feel worse.
It is also okay to admit that you’re not sure of how to help someone, or are confused if attempts to provide support don’t seem to be effective. Depression is complex, and therefore it may take time to find an approach that works. Keeping a few simple tactics in mind regarding how to reach out to someone with depression can help you provide the right kind of support.
Encourage someone to talk when they are ready
Let your friend or loved one know that if they ever want to talk about what they are going through, you’ll be there to listen. This may not happen, but it makes clear your desire to hear what is going on and to be there for them whenever they feel ready to share their feelings.
If they do talk to you, listen to them and acknowledge their feelings
Listening and acknowledging what is happening to someone is a good way to support someone without trying to fix it or impose your own analysis about what’s happening. This can be as simple as saying, “This sounds really challenging, I am so sorry you are going through this” or “I hear how painful this is for you.” Acting as a supportive sounding board can be helpful for someone experiencing depression to process their own feelings.
Unless you are asked, you don’t need to offer advice, share your own story, or suggest reasons why you think your loved one is depressed. If a loved one does want you to engage this way, follow their lead in terms of how far to pursue a subject or when they need to stop the conversation and rest.
Check in on their safety
Inquiring about someone’s safety can be a powerful supportive tool. Suicidal thoughts may be part of a person’s depressive episode, and checking in on whether your loved one is safe both acknowledges that and sets up an opportunity to talk through a potential plan if they do feel at risk from their depression.
Seeking Further Depression Support at The Dawn
For those who feel that they need additional support to manage their depression, The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab is a mental health retreat in Thailand that offers holistic, customised residential programmes for people living with mental health disorders including depression treatment. Situated in the tropical north of the country, The Dawn’s tranquil riverfront location is an oasis of calm that completely removes clients from the stressors of daily life that contribute to their condition. Our resort-like facilities include a range of amenities, including a swimming pool, wellness studio and fitness centre.
Cutting-Edge and Innovative Treatment
The Dawn offers a range of psychotherapeutic and wellness treatments to help address the root cause of depression and strengthen healthy coping skills. The Dawn is also the only residential centre in Asia offering the innovative Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation treatment or TMS – an FDA approved, non-invasive technology that helps in the treatment of all mental health conditions with symptomatic depression. Studies show that TMS is exceptionally effective in individuals who are resistant to normal depression medication. Moreover, TMS treatment does not have the unpleasant side effects associated with many depression medications.
Call The Dawn today to learn more about how we can help a loved one effectively manage their depression and improve their overall quality of life.