Learning how to help someone with depression may make a big difference in who they turn to if they reach out for help.

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When someone you care about is living with depression, it may seem like nothing you do can cheer them up.

While this can be disheartening, depression is more than feeling sad.

“Depression” is an overarching term for a group of mental disorders that change the brain’s structure and balance of chemical compounds. This can cause symptoms like helplessness, despair, and more. It starts inside the mind but can lead to symptoms that are noticeable outwardly.

All the efforts in the world to “cheer someone up” can’t alleviate their symptoms of depression. However, treatment (including meds), a reliable routine, and a solid support system can really help manage it.

Here’s how you can support someone with depression.

Many people look for big, obvious answers when wondering what is the number one cause of depression.

While it’s true that loss, trauma, and genetics can all contribute, there is no single most common cause.

About 5% of the global population lives with depression. In the United States, about 19.4 million adults reported at least one major depressive episode.

Depression can be the result of a combination of life events. It may also be influenced by your biochemistry, health habits, and diet.

Types of depression

The word “depression” can represent a handful of disorders identified in the American Psychiatric Association’s clinical guide, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 lists the following depressive disorders:

When you care about someone, you may feel responsible for helping them feel better.

However, living with depression can be a very private experience. Not everyone is ready or willing to accept input from others.

Waiting for your loved one to come to you about living with depression may allow them to maintain their boundaries and privacy.

Until then, there are ways you can support them without imposing.

Words are powerful tools — not just what you say, but also how you say it.

When you speak with a loved one about depression, using a neutral, supportive tone can help you prevent your questions or statements from sounding accusatory or condescending.

If you’re not sure how to express what you’re thinking, you may find it helpful to write it down first.

Body language may also play a role in supportive communication. For example, nodding and making eye contact can show the person that they have your full attention.

Your loved one may not open up fully about what they’re experiencing. If you’ve established a calm and positive conversation, you might get additional insight through “I’ve noticed” statements.

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It’s a good idea to avoid opinionated or leading statements that imply your loved one has control over their depression or is somehow choosing to remain in a depressive state.

Someone living with depression is often grateful for what they have. They may know “it could be worse.”

Most likely, your person desperately wants to be relieved of their feelings of emptiness and despair, but no matter how happy they might try to be, those feelings won’t go away.

In a small 2021 study, researchers found brain markers for suicidal ideation in nearly 27% of participants with untreated major depressive disorder.

Whether your loved one has opened up to you or not, help is immediately available if you think they’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

You might want to do everything in your power to protect the people you care about.

However, when it comes to helping someone with depression, sometimes simply being a positive presence in their life is the most you can do.

Even if someone you love isn’t willing to open up about living with depression, there are ways you can support them.

Learning about depression, connecting with people online and locally, and taking care of yourself are all ways you can be a positive influence and a helping hand at the ready.