How to help someone with depression – Tips for the support you can offer

If depression is creeping up and must be faced, learn something about the nature of the beast: You may escape without a mauling. ~ Dr. R. W. Shepherd

We all go through difficult times now and then. In fact, I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t struggled with some form of depression at least once during their lives. To live it would seem is to suffer – at least at times. And suffering can come in a wide variety of flavours.

We have to understand how people become depressed if we are able to learn how to help someone with depression. If we don’t understand depression generally or specifically as the case may be, then we aren’t likely to be over very much help I don’t think.

So let’s take a moment to understand depression and some of its forms. Depression is: severe despondency and dejection, typically felt over a period of time and accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy. That’s one definition that I came across that I thought offered a good description of the symptoms.

Depression usually doesn’t just happen overnight, it is something that grows and plants its roots firmly in the soil of despondency and dejection. Depression is a self fulfilling prophecy, a dog that keeps on chasing its tail. Wen someone becomes depressed it can take time and quite a bit of effort to help them out of that depression. Because as mentioned, the roots grow deep in that acrid soil of hopelessness.

I believe that depression usually has a cause of some sort. I don’t believe that someone becomes depressed for no reason. Some of the most common reason that I have found people getting depressed over is loss.

Loss however is multifaceted. You can lose a job. You can lose a loved one, a child. You can lose your place in the organization through downsizing or having roles of responsibility taken away from you. Loss can be physical. You can lose a limb, lose your slim figure or lose your hair.

If you take a moment to think about loss you will quickly see that it is far reaching. There is loss in all of our lives at some point or another. There is the loss of citizenship when moving to a new country and the loss of friendships too, not just from moving countries but from moving schools. Oftentimes it is the little people who are deeply affected by this loss, our children. We have to become especially aware of the loss that children feel that they can’t or find it difficult to give voice too.

I am not a psychiatrist nor a doctor or other medical practitioner. I am not a psychologist either. But I believe that we can all figure out how to help each other with depression. And I am certain that the best cure to helping someone with depression is the companionship of a close loved one.

This is not to say that drugs don’t have their place. But I think they should be seen as a last resort. Drugs can be harmful even those proscribed by your doctor most diligently.

If you’d like to understand what the DSM-IV-TR (the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) has to say about major depressive mood disorders then I have found a handy cheat sheet here.

I have been depressed so I know how hard it can be on others who are dealing with a depressed person. So here are my 3 best tips on how to help someone with depression:

Be Patient

Patience is key if you are sincerely interested in helping someone overcome depression and anxiety. You have to be patient because you might not understand exactly where the depression comes from. For all intents and purposes they may seem like they have everything going for them. Your friend or loved one might have a great job and a loving family and a nice house.

But as we know, appearances can be deceiving, and it can take a while to cajole the truth out of someone who is depressed. Be patient, be supportive and be kind. It might take you weeks or months before you see any long term effects of your help.

Be Present

The second bit of help that you can offer someone who is depressed is to be there for them. And don’t take their words for it only. If you ask them if they’d like company you might only get “I don’t know” or “no, I’m fine really” types of answers. Remember, you are dealing with someone who is depressed and apathetic and dejected.
Thinking and asking for what they want is oftentimes beyond them. Remember the definition up above, they feel hopeless and inadequate. They can’t ask for help.

Sometimes you have to take the bull by the horns. Pop by for a visit and bring some home baked cupcakes or a home cooked meal. Call them on the phone, talk to them. Be present in their lives and you will make a difference. Don’t expect miracles however. It will take time, sometimes they won’t have much to say but you can talk to them about how you are doing.

Empathize with them. Tell them about some of the difficult moments about how you overcame your difficulties that I know you have had in your life. Let them know that you’ve been there or you’ve known what it’s like to feel inadequate and dejected. Share your vulnerabilities.

Be Positive

This can be hard. Depressed and anxious people can suck the life out of a room and out of other people. They’re like energy vampires. But do not be dissuaded. Be with them and be positive. Comment not only on the hard things you’ve endured during your own life but about the positive things in your life presently.

Gently talk to them about how great their job is or their kids or how much you admire them for their compassion, determination or whatever other traits that you like about your friend or loved one.

Tell them how great their cooking is or how wonderful their home decor is. Be honest and sincere and expect nothing in return. Depression is hard to fight, and sometimes you might have to encourage them positively to seek guidance and help from counsellors and other professionals.

Sometimes a depressed person needs anti-depressants to help them on the road to recovery. But your most important skill in helping someone overcome anxiety and depression is to be there for them and be the support that they need. Even if they don’t think they need that support right now.

Above all else, just be you. Be your friendly, helpful self. Remember, you can’t fix someone who has depression, I hate to say that. But I believe it’s true. We heal from within. It is the same for the physical wounds as it is with the mental and emotional wounds. Your help will be invaluable and the help of drugs and other professionals might be invaluable too.

I like to look at it this way. You’re on a boat with your friend and it is a dark and foggy night. The only light you have is a small candle that you hold… this is your positivity and your compassion and patience. Your friend has control over the rudder and you can’t take it from them. Your job is to be vigilant, be the light for them, help them see the obstacles in their way so that they can move around, over or through them to get to the bright sun shiny shore.

Be still. Be present. Be patient. Be positive and be you, and you will help your friend or mom or dad or child overcome depression and find that light that glows with them. Just keep your spark close by to help.