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Advice on How to Help Someone with Depression

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/1/2011

It can be difficult to know how to help someone with depression. If you have a friend or relative who's depressed, you might not know what to say or do. In this article, you'll learn some helpful tips on how you can help while maintaining your own sense of balance and well-being.

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    How to Someone with Depression: Relative or Friend

    It's not easy to know how to help someone with depression. Educating yourself on the facts about depression is one of the best ways to start. If you're not already familiar with the signs and symptoms of depression, it can be helpful to read information from trusted resources such as the National Institute of Mental Health. Here you can find in-depth articles on what depression is, how depression manifests itself, statistical information, and how depression is treated.

    After you've educated yourself, you probably still want to do something proactive to help. It's natural to want to help your friend or relative feel better, but it's not always as easy as saying the right thing. In fact, there generally is no "right thing" to say. The most important thing is conveying a sense of support, concern and empathy. Actually, it's completely normal to be afraid that your friend or relative is going to respond in a defensive or angry manner. You can start off a conversation by saying something general that shows you care, such as "You seem sort of down lately. Is there anything I can do to help?" or "I just wanted to check in with you to see how things are going. You don't seem like yourself. Is everything ok?"

    If your friend doesn't want to talk about it, leave the topic alone for the time being and approach it again at a later point when they seem more receptive to. Don't force the issue.

    If your friend is open to your help, you might also ask if they've considered seeking treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common treatments for depression include a combination of medication, such as anti-depressants, and psychotherapy. However, there are a number of alternative treatments that have shown promise as well, such as massage therapy, acupuncture, exercise, aromatherapy and biofeedback.

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    Other Ways You Can Help

    Just having you around can make a huge difference to your friend or relative. Depressed people often isolate themselves and spend a lot of time indoors. They feel like they have no energy and just don't want to be around people. However, sometimes this reinforces their depression instead of alleviating it. From time to time, you might invite your friend to go out to get a cup of coffee or for a walk. Fresh air and exercise are often helpful in alleviating mild to moderate depression. Additionally, you could call once or twice a week just to chat, and focus on light, fun topics instead of always talking about their depression. Depressed people need distractions from their incessant worrying and ruminating.

    Stay alert to suicidal ideation or actions. If your friend talks about self-injury or harming others, call 911 and your friend's doctor or therapist. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Don't try to be a savior and handle it on your own.

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    Take Care of Yourself

    Remember to take care of yourself and maintain appropriate boundaries with your friend or relative. Even if you know how to help someone with depression, it's important for you to stay mentally healthy and active in your own life too. Don't give up your social life or your favorite activities. If you start to feel down, it might also be helpful for you to seek counseling to discuss how your loved one's depression is impacting you. It can be very draining to deal with someone who's depressed, so make sure you stay alert to your own energy level. Get enough sleep, eat right and try to maintain a sense of balance. You won't help your friend or loved one by ignoring your own health and well-being.