How to Help Someone Who's Depressed

What to do

When someone you know and love is clinically depressed, you want to be there for that person. Still, keep in mind that your friend or loved one has a medical condition, so giving support may mean more than just offering a shoulder to cry on.

“There are many things you can do to make them feel better,” says Jackie Gollan, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, but medical care may be what they really need to recover.

Here are nine helpful things you can do for someone with depression.

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Realize treatment is key

Depression is a medical condition requiring medical care. As a family member or friend, you can listen to the person and give your support, but that might not be enough.

If you keep this in mind, it can prevent you from losing patience or getting frustrated with them because your best efforts don’t “cure” their depression.

“People that are depressed can’t sleep it off; they can’t avoid it,” says Gollan. “You can give care and support, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

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Get active in their care

The best thing you can do for someone with depression is support his or her treatment. Tell your friend or loved one that depression is a medical problem and ignoring it will not make it go away.

“If someone breaks their leg, they are taken to a doctor or hospital,” says Gollan. “If someone has depression, they need medical care and psychosocial support.”

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Talk about it

Let them know that you and others care about them and are available for support. Offer to drive them to treatment or, if they want to talk to you about how they’re feeling, know what to listen for.

“This can reduce risk of suicide,” says Gollan. “Listen carefully for signs of hopelessness and pessimism, and don’t be afraid to call a treatment provider for help or even take them to the ER if their safety is in question.”

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Focus on small goals

A depressed person may ask, “Why bother? Why should I get out of bed today?” You can help answer these questions and offer positive reinforcement.

“Depressive avoidance and passivity can be reduced through activation [to help the person regain a sense of reward] and small goals of accomplishment,” says Gollan.

Document and praise small, daily achievements—even something as simple as getting out of bed.

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Read all about it

Books about depression can be useful, especially when they are reliable sources of advice or guidance that’s known to help people with depression.

Books can often shed light on the types of treatment available.

Gollan recommends books like The Feeling Good Handbook($15; amazon.com), Mind Over Mood ($14; amazon.com), and Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time ($18;amazon.com).

“Blogs are pretty risky,” she says, “unless you are sure the sources are reliable.”

Encourage doctor visits

Encourage the person to visit a physician or psychologist; take medications as prescribed; and participate in cognitive behavioral therapy for depression.

Gollan suggests checking the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies or the American Psychological Associationto locate psychologists and medical centers’ psychiatry departments.

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