How to Help Someone Who's Depressed
What to do
“There are many things you can do to make them feel better,” says Jackie Gollan, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, but medical care may be what they really need to recover.
Here are nine helpful things you can do for someone with depression.
Realize treatment is key
If you keep this in mind, it can prevent you from losing patience or getting frustrated with them because your best efforts don't "cure" their depression.
"People that are depressed can't sleep it off; they can't avoid it," says Gollan. "You can give care and support, but it's not going to solve the problem."
Get active in their care
"If someone breaks their leg, they are taken to a doctor or hospital," says Gollan. "If someone has depression, they need medical care and psychosocial support."
Talk about it
"This can reduce risk of suicide," says Gollan. "Listen carefully for signs of hopelessness and pessimism, and don't be afraid to call a treatment provider for help or even take them to the ER if their safety is in question."
Stay in contact
You may need to work extra hard to support and engage someone who's depressed.
"Activities that promote a sense of accomplishment, reward, or pleasure are directly helpful in improving depression," says Gollan. "Choose something that the person finds interesting." Still, keep in mind that they may not feel interested in the activity right away.
Routines that promote exercise, nutrition, and a healthy amount of sleep are helpful.
Focus on small goals
"Depressive avoidance and passivity can be reduced through activation [to help the person regain a sense of reward] and small goals of accomplishment," says Gollan.
Document and praise small, daily achievements—even something as simple as getting out of bed.
Read all about it
Books can often shed light on the types of treatment available.
Gollan recommends books like The Feeling Good Handbook ($15; amazon.com), Mind Over Mood ($14; amazon.com), and Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time ($18; amazon.com).
"Blogs are pretty risky," she says, "unless you are sure the sources are reliable."
Find local services
Some people with depression may not recognize that they're depressed. Explain to them that the condition can get progressively worse, even become chronic, if not treated early. Hence, it's worth investigating supportive services and specialists.
Encourage doctor visits
Encourage the person to visit a physician or psychologist; take medications as prescribed; and participate in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression.
Gollan suggests checking the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Association to locate psychologists and medical centers' psychiatry departments.
Also, if the going is rough for him or her emotionally due to marital separation, divorce, job loss, a death in the family, or other serious stress, be ready to step in to help.