At one time or another in our lives, we’ve known someone who’s been depressed. They seem inconsolable and sad all the time, and no longer want to hang out with us, text with us, or interact with us in all the ways they used to. It almost feels like they’re pushing us away.
That’s the depression talking, and it works hard to try and keep friends and family away from the person suffering from depression.
The most important thing anyone can do for the depressed person is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This may involve encouraging the individual to stay with treatment until symptoms begin to abate (several weeks), or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs. On occasion, it may require making an appointment and accompanying the depressed person to the doctor. It may also mean monitoring whether the depressed person is taking medication.
The second most important thing you can offer someone with depression is your emotional support — why you’re friends with the person to begin with. Knowing another person cares about them and wants them to no longer suffer is the glimmer of hope that can keep someone with depression hanging on for another day. Offering your emotional support means providing understanding, patience, affection, and encouragement. You need to be the rock in the person’s storm of depression.
Engage the depressed person in conversation and listen carefully. Do not disparage feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope.
Invite the depressed person for walks, outings, to the movies, and other activities. Be gently insistent if your invitation is refused. Encourage participation in some activities that once gave pleasure, such as hobbies, sports, religious or cultural activities, but do not push the depressed person to undertake too much too soon. The depressed person needs diversion and company, but too many demands can increase feelings of failure.
Never accuse or suggest the depressed person of faking illness or of laziness, or expect him or her “to snap out of it.” Depression is as real a disorder as is diabetes. So no more than a person with diabetes could just “snap out” of their illness, nor can a person with depression snap out of theirs. You should not ignore remarks about suicide. If possible, it may be helpful to share such feelings with the depressed person’s therapist or treatment provider.
A person with depression should also be encouraged to follow their treatment plan, including taking prescription medications they agreed to take, and about the use of alcohol while on medication (as sometimes it may be discouraged, or limited). Sometimes a person may be reluctant to take a medication for depression, mistakenly believing that depression should be something that should solely be done “on their own.” While that may work for some people, others’ depression will be best treated with a combination of both medication and psychotherapy.
Eventually, with treatment, most people with depression do get better. Keep that in mind, and keep reassuring the depressed person that, with time and help, he or she will feel better. Sometimes it helps just to become a better active listener, because most of what a person with depression needs is just someone who will listen.
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