There are several ways that depression can affect not only the people experiencing it but also those around them. They may have sudden mood swings or become increasingly sensitive or irritable. A depressive episode is often marked by a lack of interest in favorite activities or an inability to enjoy life. It may be accompanied by other issues such as anxiety or attention deficits. It's not always easy to know how to support loved ones with depression, but there are a few ways you can help shoulder some of the burdens they face.
Listen Without Judgment
Some of the most difficult symptoms of depression to overcome are feelings of worthlessness, guilt and other negative thoughts about the self. People who are depressed have an inner voice that is lying to them about who they are. It can make it hard for them to believe that anyone cares if they don't see themselves as lovable.
Encouraging friends to talk about what's going on with them is a good way to combat these thoughts. They may not be able to outwardly express their acceptance of your concern, but the more often you confirm that you love them enough to listen, the higher the probability that they will be able to receive your care.
Having a familiar shoulder to cry on is a good start, but people who are depressed need professional assistance. A licensed psychologist or psychiatrist can meet with them and provide an official diagnosis. More importantly, they can propose treatment options to help alleviate symptoms.
It can be especially difficult for those with depression to seek help on their own. Those who frequently counsel others are more likely to have contacts to whom they can refer those who need additional therapy. If you aren't familiar with qualified therapists in your area, your pastor may be able to recommend someone who would be a good fit.
Initiate Making Plans
When nothing sounds interesting or it takes all the energy they have just to get out of bed and get dressed, your depressed friends or family members may be overwhelmed at the thought of making plans. Interacting with people rather than being alone with their own thoughts may be just what they need, though.
You can help by making specific plans and inviting them to join you. Then communicate clearly that there is no pressure so that they don't feel guilty if they back out. This gives them a low-maintenance opportunity to leave the house without the burden of having to make the decisions involved in planning.
Offer To Help With Specific Tasks
Basic tasks that most people take for granted can seem impossible to those undergoing a depressive episode. For example, they may stop eating because the thought of going to the grocery store or cooking is too much to bear. The to-do list may be so overwhelming that they can't even bring it to mind when well-meaning friends ask if there's anything they need.
When you offer to do something for them, have specific tasks in mind. Ask if you can wash their dishes, run errands, make phone calls or set up appointments for them. Then all they have to do is choose the most helpful option.
Watch for Signs of Suicidal Thoughts
Suicidal thoughts are common with depression, and it's important not to ignore them. You may save your loved one's life by learning to recognize the signs:
- Stating that they want to die
- Withdrawing from others
- Giving away treasured possessions
- Changing sleeping or eating patterns
- Engaging in reckless behavior
- Saying goodbye to people close to them
Depression is not easy for those who experience it or the people who love them, and it's common to feel powerless against it. The truth, however, is that there are several ways to help a loved one fight this disease.