How to Help a Depressed Loved One

Don’t tell him to “snap out of it.” There are better ways to deal with depression.
The most important thing you can do for a family member or friend who is depressed is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This may involve encouraging him or her to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to abate (several weeks), or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs. On occasion, it may require making an appointment and accompanying your loved one to the doctor. It may also mean monitoring whether he is taking medication. Encourage your friend to obey the doctor’s orders about the use of alcoholic products while on medication.

The second most important thing is to offer emotional support. This involves understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. Engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope. Do not ignore remarks about suicide. Report them to your friend’s therapist. Invite your friend for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused. Encourage participation in some activities that once gave the person pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or cultural activities, but do not push him to undertake too much too soon. Your friend or family member needs diversion and company, but too many demands can increase feelings of failure.

Do not accuse your friend of faking illness or of laziness, or expect her “to snap out of it.” Eventually, with treatment, most people do get better. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring her that, with time and help, she will feel better.

Where to Get Help:
If you’re unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow Pages under “mental health,” “health,” “social services,” “suicide prevention,” “crisis intervention services,” “hotlines,” “hospitals,” or “physicians” for phone numbers and addresses. You can also search the websites listed under “Related Links.” People and places that will make referrals to, or provide, diagnostic and treatment services include: family doctors, community mental health centers, hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics, university- or medical school-affiliated programs, family service or social agencies, employee assistance programs, and local medical and/or psychiatric societies. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for an emotional problem, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help.

From: The National Institute of Mental Health

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