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How Can I Help a Loved One With Depression?

Confronting depression in a family member or dear friend may feel like a terrifying and overwhelming task. It can be frustrating and difficult to help someone who may not understand he needs help, particularly if he is acting irritable, irrational (“no one loves me”), non-responsive and/or suicidal. But, steering him to appropriate professional help is the first step to ending the pain and speeding the return of the person you once knew. And, someone who feels “all I can do to make it through the day” may not have the strength to take this first step alone.

Depression is a common disease, so remember that there are many people who have been in your shoes and can offer advice and support. Begin with educating yourself about the signs and symptoms of depression, special issues regarding children and adolescents and women or the elderly and treatment options Consult with your family physician, psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional for advice.

1. Help get treatment:

  • If they are suicidal, seek immediate help
  • Help them understand that they have a disease that can be treated
  • If the person resists seeking treatment and is not suicidal, be patient and supportive and make sure they understand you are there to help when they are ready for the next step
  • Identify a doctor for them and help them understand their insurance benefits
  • Make an appointment for them
  • Accompany them to the doctor
  • Monitor their medication
  • Encourage the person to stick with treatment

Never ignore remarks about suicide, no matter how frivolous. You may even inquire if the person has feelings of hurting herself. Research has shown that asking someone about suicide will not encourage a suicide attempt.

2. Offer support during and after treatment:

  • be understanding
  • do not give up on them no matter how slow the process . . . or they might give up on themselves
  • offer encouragement
  • engage them in conversation and listen
  • do not disparage their feelings, and
  • never judge or act like you ‘know’ how they feel. You don’t.

Since depression can make people feel exhausted and helpless, they will need and probably want help from others. Recovery does not happen overnight and the proper medicine, dosage and therapy may take a little trial and error to discover. Eventually, with treatment, 85 to 90 percent of people fully recover. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring them that, with time and help, they will feel better.

3. Help them rediscover the joys of life . . . slowly:

  • offer diversion and company (example: invite the depressed person for walks, outings, movies, and other activities)
  • encourage participation in other activities that once gave the person pleasure
  • be gently insistent if your invitations are refused but do not push the depressed person to undertake too much too soon
How Can I Help a Loved One With Depression?

Steve Bressert, Ph.D.

Steve Bressert, Ph.D. is a retired professor and clinician in clinical psychology. He writes occasionally for Psych Central and other mental health and psychology publications.

APA Reference
Bressert, S. (2020). How Can I Help a Loved One With Depression?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.