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How to Approach a Loved One About Depression


If you have a friend or loved one that you suspect is depressed and you’re not sure how to help them, it’s understandable that you might feel helpless and frustrated. While you can’t fix their problems or make their depression go away, you can listen to them and encourage them to seek help. 

What can you do if you suspect a friend or loved one might have depression? Knowing the signs of depression is the first step to getting them the help they need. 

What Are the Signs of Depression?

Depression can look different for everyone and the severity of symptoms can vary. 

Common symptoms of depression can include:

  • Withdrawing (they don’t respond to calls or texts and they don’t attend social events)
  • Losing interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • Being angry or frustrated over small things
  • Expressing feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Difficulty remembering things or making decisions
  • Mentioning death or suicidal thoughts

Be on the lookout for things that are out of character for your friend or loved one, like changes in their behavior or communication.

Talk Openly About Your Concerns

People who are depressed oftentimes have difficulty sharing how they feel or may feel ashamed. Consider approaching your loved one and expressing your feelings and concern for them. 

When expressing your concerns to a loved one about their wellbeing, communicate how you feel in a way that does not place blame. For example, use phrases that take ownership of your own feelings, like “I’m concerned” and “I’ve noticed.” Avoid using phrases that begin with “you,” like “you never respond to my messages” or “you don’t seem like your normal self.” Statements that start with “you” can provoke a defensive response, especially in someone who is depressed.

Actively Listen, Without Judgement

You may find that when you open up to your loved one about your concerns, that they open up to you about how they’re feeling. This is a great opportunity for you to support them by actively listening to them and validating their feelings. Actively listening means that you place your full attention on what they’re saying without getting distracted. 

One way to show that you are truly listening is to provide feedback. You can do this by asking questions to clarify what they are saying; for example, “What I’m hearing is ….,” and then you can ask, “Is that what you mean?”

People who are depressed often feel lonely and unworthy of love. Tell your friend or loved one that you care about them very much, no matter where they’re at or how they feel. 

Suggest That They Get Help and Treatment

If your loved one has not yet sought out help, encourage them to do so. Diagnosing and treating depression early on gives your loved one the best chance at achieving remission and lowers their risk of relapse.

The standard treatment for depression includes antidepressant medication and talk therapy. Antidepressants have helped millions of people get relief from depression; however, there are some people who will not see an improvement in their symptoms with antidepressants. 

If your loved one is taking antidepressants and has not seen an improvement in their symptoms, suggest that they make an appointment with their doctor to discuss trying a different treatment option. For example, TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) is a medication-free treatment option that is proven to help people find relief from depression symptoms, even when they didn’t improve with antidepressants.(1) 

Set Boundaries

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by supporting someone with depression, start taking time to invest in your wellbeing by:

  • Staying connected to your family and friends
  • Taking the time to rest and planning some downtime
  • Getting support from a therapist or a support group

While it may feel important that you help your friend or family member, it is also important that you set boundaries around when you can help and what you can do to help. 


Resources:

1. O’Reardon JP, Solvason HB, Janicak PG, et al. Efficacy and safety of transcranial magnetic stimulation in the acute treatment of major depression: A multisite randomized controlled trial. Biol Psychiatry. 2007;62(11):1208-16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17573044/. Accessed June 19, 2020.2. Carpenter LL, Janicak PG, Aaronson ST, et al. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) for major depression: A multisite, naturalistic, observational study of acute treatment outcomes in clinical practice. Depress Anxiety. 2012;29(7):587-96. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22689344/. Accessed September 15, 2021.

Dr. Woo has been seeing patients in private practice since 2002, always with the goals of combining evidence-based medicine with psychodynamic psychotherapy and collaborating with other mental health professionals to ensure the best possible outcomes for his patients. He has been certified to administer TMS at his practice since 2017. His greatest clinical interests include helping patients suffering from depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

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