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Depression: Supporting Someone Who Is Depressed

Introduction

If someone you care about has been diagnosed with depression, you may feel helpless. Maybe you're watching a once-vibrant person slide into inactivity or seeing a good friend lose interest in activities that he or she used to enjoy. The change in your loved one's or friend's behavior may be so great that you feel you no longer know him or her.

You probably want to help in some way. This topic will give you the tools to do so.

  • Depression is a disease. It's not being lazy, and you can't "just get over it."
  • The best thing you can do for someone who is depressed is to help him or her start or continue treatment.
  • Offer support. You can do this by understanding what depression is, being patient, and offering help.
  • Don't ignore talk about suicide. Talk to a doctor, or call 911 or emergency help if needed.
  • Reassure the person that he or she will get better with the right kind of treatment. Treatment depends on how severe the depression is and includes medicine, counseling, self-care, or a combination of these.
 

Depression is a disease. It's caused by changes in the chemicals in the brain. Depression isn't a character flaw, and it doesn't mean that the person is bad or weak. It doesn't mean that he or she is going crazy.

Depression causes a person to feel sad and hopeless much of the time. It's different from normal feelings of sadness, grief, or low energy. The person may lose interest in daily activities and may feel sad and grouchy for a long time.

Many people don't get help because they are embarrassed or think that they'll get over depression on their own. But most people need treatment to get better.

Treatment depends on how severe the depression is and includes medicine, counseling, self-care, or a combination of these. Sometimes a person has to try several types of treatment before finding one that works. Most people feel better in 1 to 3 weeks, but it can take as many as 6 to 8 weeks for treatment to work as well as it can.

Depression is common. Men and women of all ages, ethnic groups, and economic groups can have it. It often runs in families. But it also can happen to someone who doesn't have a family history of depression. A person can have depression one time or many times.

Test Your Knowledge

Depression is a disease, just like asthma is a disease.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    Depression is a disease. It's caused by changes in the chemicals in the brain. It's not a character flaw, and it doesn't mean that the person is bad or weak or going crazy.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    Depression is a disease. It's caused by changes in the chemicals in the brain. It's not a character flaw, and it doesn't mean that the person is bad or weak or going crazy.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

If you've never been depressed, it's hard to understand just how hopeless and discouraged depression can make you feel. Depression can upset your life as much as other major illnesses, and it can make it hard to take care of family, work, and social duties.

Supporting someone who has depression is important because it can:

  • Help the person continue treatment. This is the best thing that can happen.
  • Boost the person's self-esteem and self-confidence. This helps the person deal better with family, work, school, and daily life.
  • Show the person that he or she has a friend. Friendship can show the person that he or she is not alone.

Test Your Knowledge

Helping someone with depression is important because:

  • It may help the person stay in treatment.
    This answer is correct.

    Most people need treatment to recover from depression. If your help gives the person a reason to continue treatment, you've done the best possible thing.

  • It makes you feel good about yourself.
    This answer is incorrect.

    The most important reason to help is to help the person stay in treatment. If your help gives the person a reason to continue treatment, you've done the best possible thing.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Here are some things you can do to help:

Educate yourself

The more you know about depression, the better you can understand what the person is going through.

  • Know what is true about depression, and know the myths about depression. Myths include thinking that depression isn't real or that you're weak if you're depressed.
  • Know the warning signs of suicide, such as talking a lot about death or giving things away and writing a will. If you notice them, call the doctor.
  • Call 911 or emergency help if you think:
    • The person is going to harm himself or herself or others. For example, the person has a written plan or a weapon or is saving (stockpiling) medicines.
    • The person is hearing or seeing things that are not real.
    • The person seems to be thinking or speaking in a bizarre way that is unlike his or her usual behavior.

Help with professional treatment

If you have permission, you can:

  • Help the person set up and get to visits with a doctor or other health professional.
  • Help the person manage medicines.
  • Know the side effects of medicines and contact the doctor if needed.
  • Remind the person who has depression that medicine is important and that the dose or medicine can be changed to reduce or get rid of side effects.

Home support

A person who has depression may feel alone in the world. Your support can help.

  • Listen when the person wants to talk. If you're there to help the person talk things through, it may help the person feel better or continue treatment.
  • Avoid giving advice. But gently point out that not everything is bad, and offer hope. Urge the person to continue treatment. Don't tell the person that he or she is lazy or should be able to get over it.
  • Keep your relationship as normal as you can, but don't pretend that depression doesn't exist or that there isn't a problem.
  • Ask the person to do things with you, such as go for walks or to a movie, and encourage the person to continue with favorite activities. If the person says no, then that's okay. But be sure to ask again in the future. Don't push too much, which may make the person feel worse.
  • Ask what you can do to help in daily life. You might help with housework or lawn care, getting the kids to school, or running errands.
  • Don't be offended. If you are a spouse or are very close to someone, you may feel hurt because the person isn't paying attention to you and may seem angry or uncaring. Remember that your loved one still cares for you but just isn't able to show it.

Take care of yourself

Spending a lot of time with someone who has depression may be hard on you too. These caregiver tips can help:

  • Take care of yourself first. Do things you enjoy, such as seeing family or going to movies.
  • Don't help too much. A common mistake caregivers make is providing too much care. Even if they don't admit it, people like to help themselves. Take some time off.
  • Don't do it alone. Ask others to help you, or join a support group. The more support you have, the more help you can give to the person.

For more information, see the topic Caregiver Tips.

Test Your Knowledge

A way to help someone who has depression is:

You need to do everything possible and put your life on hold to help a person with depression.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Help as much as you can, but you also need time for yourself. Take some time off to see other people and do things you enjoy. Join a support group if that helps you.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Help as much as you can, but you also need time for yourself. Take some time off to see other people and do things you enjoy. Join a support group if that helps you.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have read this information, you are better prepared to help someone who has depression.

Some medicines for depression have side effects that cause people to stop taking them.

Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Dealing With Medicine Side Effects
Click here to view an Actionset. Depression: Taking Antidepressants Safely

If you would like more information on depression, the following resource is available:

Organization

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
3803 North Fairfax Drive
Suite 100
Arlington, VA  22203
Phone: 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264) hotline for help with depression
(703) 524-7600
Fax: (703) 524-9094
Email: info@nami.org
Web Address: www.nami.org
 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a national self-help and family advocacy organization dedicated solely to improving the lives of people who have severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. NAMI focuses on support, education, advocacy, and research. The mission of the organization is to "eradicate mental illness and improve the quality of life of those affected by these diseases."


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Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last Revised January 11, 2013

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