Depressive episodes are emotionally and physically draining. It can be crippling, even. It can prevent us from thinking rationally, taking care of ourselves, taking care of household chores, having normal social interactions, and in severe cases, prevent us from being able to function properly at work.
It is very hard to see someone you love struggling. You may or may not know what you can say, and you may or may not know what you can do. You may even feel like you can’t help at all. The good news is, that’s not entirely true, even if he or she tells you that you can’t do anything to help them.
Not everyone knows how to help someone with depression, and that’s okay. With that being said, it is important that you educate yourself if you fall into that category. Sometimes all a person needs is someone who can empathize with them.
If you aren’t really sure what depression is really like, check out my post I wrote about what depression feels like. It’s uncensored and full of input from my good friends on Twitter. It’s worth a read if you want to get a glimpse of what living with depression can feel like.
Ways that you can help someone with depression
1. Ask how you can help.
It may seem simple, but give them the opportunity to tell you what they need. They may not answer you, or they may tell you that they don’t know what you can do to help them, and that’s okay. The fact that you asked will mean something to them, because it will show them you care and are making an effort to help.
2. Send a thoughtful message (text/social media message).
If you’re thinking about someone who has been struggling, text them or send them a message on social media and check in on them. Ask them how they’re doing, or give them a compliment. Simply say that you were thinking about them. Knowing that someone is actually thinking about us will mean a lot, even if we don’t say so.
I can be having the worst day imaginable and an “I love you” text from my husband will still put a smile on my face. Don’t underestimate how much you mean to that person.
3. Put together a care package for them.
Gift them all of their favorite things and ask them when it’s okay for you to stop by and deliver it to them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do this. Buy a $1 bag or basket at the dollar store and fill it with some things they love. Maybe there’s a movie they’ve been wanting to see. Include some of their favorite snacks. Get them a $10 gift card to one of their favorite stores. Pack some self-care items they can pamper themselves with, like lotion, a bath bomb, a new luxurious loofah, or makeup.
4. One of the best things you can do is help with chores.
Household chores are usually among the first to go when a depressive episode is rearing its ugly face. This can be anything from sweeping to vacuuming to dishes to laundry. Not only will they not be getting done, but it often makes a person feel stressed and guilty because they aren’t getting done. The worst part is, it’s not even their fault, but depression isn’t rational.
5. Offer dinner and a movie.
Self-care is another one of the first things to go when someone is depressed, and for some people, that includes eating. Offer to cook or bring over takeout. Ask them if it’s okay if you stay and eat with them and, if they say yes, that’s a great opportunity to talk to them and help put them at ease. If they aren’t feeling chatty, see if they want to relax and watch a movie with you instead.
6. Don’t get frustrated or upset if we decline or cancel plans.
When I’m experiencing a depressive episode, being around other people is the absolute last thing I want to do. The last thing you should do when this happens is take it personal, because their reason for canceling likely has nothing to do with you.
7. Listen without trying to analyze and fix everything.
When a person is venting, it’s usually because they need to let thoughts or emotions out, and not necessarily because they’re looking for a solution. In that moment, at least.
So, try to refrain from responding with things like, “Well, have you thought about doing _________ (fill in the blank) to make it better?” or “You could always try _________ (fill in the blank).” Instead, just listen and try and understand their feelings. What we’re feeling in that moment may not always be rational, but it will mean a lot to them that you are trying to empathize with them.
Speaking from personal experience, most of the time, I would prefer my husband listen to me and try to understand how I feel instead of trying to initiate a problem-solving brainstorm session.
8. Never invalidate their feelings.
Everyone has a right to their own feelings. They may not always be rational, but that doesn’t make them any less real to that person. For that reason alone, they matter. Please don’t ever tell someone to “get over it,” or that “it’s not really that bad.”
9. Be there when they need it.
Be available. If you let them know you’re there for them, be sure to follow through and either lend an ear or be there for them in person.
10. Offer to pamper them.
Offer to do some shopping for them — they may need a few groceries or toiletries. See if they want to have a pamper session at home, which may include brushing each other’s hair or a massage or a facial. Offer to do a household chore or two for them. See if there’s anything you can do for them that would make them feel special and that might boost their confidence.
11. If they ask you to leave them alone, it may be okay to do so…
As long as they aren’t exhibiting symptoms of active suicidal behavior!
Sometimes all a person needs is to be alone for a while. However, it may be best to encourage them to get professional help if they are:
- Acting anxious or easily agitated
- Withdrawing or isolation
- Displaying rage or extreme mood swings
- Have drastic changes in sleeping habits
- Have drastic changes in eating habits
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Behaving recklessly, as if they don’t care about being in harm’s way
- Talking about feeling trapped
- Talking about death or killing oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or worthless
- Talking about feeling like a burden to others
It’s worth noting that not ever negative feeling means they’re thinking about suicide. However, you should use your best judgment for the situation at hand and determine if they okay to be supported at a distance or if you should consider encouraging them to ask for professional help.
Please seek help if necessary!
If you or someone you know needs help, please call 9-1-1. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Crisis Text Line is 741741 — just text “HOME” to the number. Trained crisis workers are available to talk 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with NO judgment.
If you think someone is in immediate danger, be sure to not leave them alone.