When a Family Member won't Seek Help for Depression- What Can You Do?

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Depression in the Family

Depression does not just affect the individual; it can impact an entire family. Sadness, hopelessness, changes in appetite and sleeping patterns, and aches and pains certainly drain the person experiencing these symptoms. But loved ones can feel equally as drained as they try to help their relative feel better. However, recovery from depression requires medical intervention and different kinds of treatment for each individual. But what if a family member won’t seek help for depression? What can you do then?

What You Can Do

Seeking medical for depression is the most critical step to begin recovery. This step can be the most difficult, too. Unfortunately, mental illness still has stigma attached to it. Depressed individuals may feel shame or be too proud to admit that they have depression and need help. Others may feel such a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that prevents them from understanding that this is a highly treatable medical condition and they can be helped.

When a family member will not seek help for depression, relatives should and must take the initiative to get them treatment. If you find yourself in this situation, take the following steps.

  • Ask your relative why they will not seek treatment. Hearing their explanations may help you gain better insight into how to help. And, the fact that you are doing this may show your family member how much you want him or her to receive help.
  • Begin with a check-up by a general practitioner. An appointment with a family doctor is a good place to start to rule out any medical causes of depression. Also, your family member may be more willing to see a general practitioner than a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Remember that your relative is low on motivation and energy, so you will probably need to make the appointment yourself. You may want to talk to the doctor first to inform him or her of your concerns. Accompany your relative to the appointment and take notes on information he or she may miss.
  • Assist your family member in listing all of their emotional and physical symptoms to discuss with the doctor. As someone who sees your relative’s moods and behaviors regularly, you can acknowledge symptoms he or she may not recognize or be unwilling to divulge.
  • Assist your depressed relative in finding a psychiatrist or therapist. If the doctor diagnoses depression and recommends a mental health professional, help to find the right provider. Finding a good and suitable therapist can be difficult, and this may take calls and visits to several professionals before one is chosen. Assistance making calls and researching providers is often necessary to help a depressed individual already lacking energy and motivation. When you have found one, be there at the first visit.

Loved ones should not give up when supporting a family member who won’t get help for depression. Depression does not just go away. If suicidal thoughts cross an individual’s mind, emergency assistance should be called for immediately.


Depression Alliance Scotland. “Caring for Carers – When a Friend or Family Member has Depression.” www.dascot.org/publications/factsheets/carers.pdf

Smith, Melinda, Barston, Suzanne, and Segal, Jeanne. “Helping a Depressed Person: Taking Care of Yourself while Supporting a Loved One.” www.helpguide.org/mental/living_depressed_person.htm