- When someone is suffering from depression, feeling the urge to help is natural.
- On the other hand, knowing how to help does not always come naturally.
- It may be challenging to understand what is causing the depressive behavior, which can lead to frustration.
- It is okay when you do not always understand the unseen mechanics at play.
- The best way to help is by always starting from a place of compassion and understanding.
5 Strategies To Help Someone With Depression
Whether it is a close friend or a family member, it is normal to want to help when someone you care about is diagnosed with depression. However, you may not always know the best way to do so. Before you jump in and start trying to help, taking a little time to understand what support is beneficial and what is not can go a long way.
To get started, we recommend keeping these five instrumental strategies in mind as you try to help someone with depression:
1. Start From a Place of Understanding
As soon as you feel the desire to help someone with depression, you need to consider how you can approach them from a place of understanding. It is okay if you do not immediately understand exactly what a depression diagnosis entails. You can even let your loved one know that. Depression is a complex psychological issue with multiple causes, but you do not need to be an expert to provide support by trying to understand what they are struggling with.
One of the easiest ways to start understanding is simply by listening. You do not necessarily need to provide advice or guidance. Early on, it may even be best to avoid doing so unless the person asks for it. Instead, simply being the person they know they can go to when they need someone to talk with provides a vital foundation of support at all stages of healing.
2. Watch Out for Enabling Behaviors
While nonjudgmental listening is one of the best ways to help someone with depression, you also have to realize that not all behaviors are equally beneficial, and some may even perpetuate depressive thought patterns and behaviors.
When the time comes to provide more hands-on support, you have to be careful about understanding the line between helping and enabling. Enabling often looks like helping, but in the long run it is counterproductive to healing from depression.
Common enabling behaviors to look out for include:
- Ignoring the issue(s)
- Assuming symptoms will eventually resolve on their own
- Continually accepting rationalizations until they become excuses
- Joining in on behavior that may perpetuate depressive states
- Actively avoiding the discussion of issues that need to be addressed
- Trying to soften or absorb the consequences of their depressive behavior
Again, these behaviors may seem supportive and helpful at the time. You may have the best of intentions, but when you repeatedly fall back on enabling behavior, it may end up doing more harm than good.
Learn more about our Family Program. When treating clients, the PCH Family Program is designed to take the spotlight off of the client and highlight how family members can contribute to recovery and healing. Find Out More
3. Identify When and How To Motivate
To avoid falling into enabling behavior, you need to know when and how it is beneficial to motivate someone struggling with depression. However, just as there is a line between supporting and enabling behaviors, there is also a line between motivating and triggering.
While providing an excessive amount of “help” can lead to enabling behaviors, not providing enough support or pushing too hard can trigger the individual you are trying to help. When used appropriately, these triggers can actually encourage the person to confront an issue they have been avoiding and move forward.
However, when too many triggers are introduced too early in the healing journey, it only slows the process down. To ensure that does not happen, you should work to identify underlying depression triggers as early as possible.
Common triggers are:
- Intense periods of stress
- Sudden life changes
- The development or recurrence of serious health conditions
- Financial strain or losing a job
- Gaining weight and body image issues
- Drug or alcohol addiction and relapse
- Poor lifestyle habits (e.g., diet, sleep)
- A chaotic or unstable home life
It is generally best to identify triggers early on so that issues do not compound, with the understanding that your behavior might be triggering depression. Once the individual has begun the healing process and is in a stable place, it may be beneficial to confront certain triggers. However, it has to begin by identifying the triggers of depression.
4. Differentiate Between Medicating and Healing
Medicating depression is different from treating depression. When the focus of treatment is on medicating rather than healing, treatment is rarely effective. Antidepressants are most effective when used acutely for short durations to get someone to a place of stability so healing can begin.
When used appropriately, medication can play an important role in treating depression. However, it can also interfere with the healing journey when used inappropriately. In cases of mismedication or overmedication, antidepressants may numb pain or unpleasant emotions so that the individual does not have to confront or deal with them. Remove the antidepressants and the symptoms return.
You have to understand that medicating depression is not a long-term solution. In order to continue recovering from depression, true healing has to happen. Whether depressive states are rooted in trauma, anxiety, or other health issues, medicating can never replace healing.
5. Realize It’s Okay To Feel Frustrated
When you are trying to help someone with depression, you have to realize there are a lot of factors that are not only out of your control—they may also be out of the control of the person struggling with depression. At the same time, there are often more unknowns than knowns.
When that gets difficult, realize that it is okay to feel frustrated. Helping someone suffering from depression is rarely easy. When you are struggling with feelings of frustration, use those unpleasant feelings to better understand the mindset of the person you are trying to help. In their minds, those negative feelings have overwritten their ability to find joy in life.
When you feel frustrated, remind yourself that it is not always easy to find joy in life. When someone you love is struggling to find joy, it is normal to want to help, and you should always start from a place of understanding.
Learn the Skills and Tools To Help a Loved One Suffering From Depression
At PCH, we understand the important role family members play in helping a loved one recover from depression. We know how critical those relationships are when healing needs to happen. To ensure family members can provide support at crucial junctions in recovery, we developed a focused Family Therapy Program that gives family members the tools and skills they need to help their loved ones heal.