Do you have a depressed friend or family member?

Some do's and don'ts when helping someone who is depressed.

Helping someone who is depressed can be very important to the depressed person. When someone is experiencing depression, they frequently feel all alone. A supportive family member or friend can often make a big difference.

Most of the time, however, a concerned friend or family member just doesn't know what to do to help. You may find yourself in this situation. You know someone that is experiencing depression and you what to help. But how?

In answering the question I am going to suggest several things to do and several things not to do when helping someone who is depressed.

First, let's consider some things which you can do to help...

  • When helping someone who is depressed, do educate yourself concerning depression. Read about the symptoms, causes, and kinds of treatments which are available. There are many good books about depression. You will find many helpful books mentioned as you read the articles posted in this Web site. This and other Web sites also contain valuable information about depression and the resources which can be used when helping someone who is depressed.

    Following are some Web sites which you may find helpful:

    National Institute of Mental Health

    National Alliance for the Mentally Ill

    National Mental Illness Screening Project

    National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, do provide your depressed family member or friend with information. You may purchase a book about depression and ask your loved one to read it. There may be a mental health association, psychiatric hospital, or mental health center in your community which provides seminars or lectures on depression or other disorders. You and your depressed friend could attend together.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, do gently encourage the depressed person to recognize his or her depression and to take active steps to get help from a qualified psychologist or psychiatrist. You can tell him or her that self tests are available on the Internet which can help a person decide if he or she is depressed. There are many Web sites which contain such tests. One example is this site provided by the National Mental Health Organization,

  • When helping someone who is depressed, do provide the depressed person with practical help, as you are able. For example, you may provide them with babysitting; this can be especially helpful if they need to go to a therapy appointment or support group. If possible and appropriate, you may provide financial help.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, do provide the depressed person with support. You can support the depressed person by offering to accompany him or her to therapy sessions. This can be especially helpful when he or she goes to the therapist's office for the first time. People are usually nervous the first time they go to a psychologist's or psychiatrist's office.

    Often when someone is trying to cope with depression, he or she needs to engage in activities such as exercise. Doing this can be hard for a depressed person because the depression makes him or her feel tired, weak, and unmotivated. You can be supportive by offering to exercise (or do some other recommended activity) with him or her.

    Another way to provide support is to call on the phone occasionally, asking how he or she is doing and just being a friend. As you are doing these things to support your depressed friend, be careful not to impose. If you are too pushy, the results will be counterproductive.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, do model positive behaviors. One of the best ways to influence someone else to become more healthy, is to be more healthy yourself. Be a good role model for your depressed friend or family member by living a positive, growing, balanced life yourself.

    Now for some things not to do...

  • When helping someone who is depressed, don't try to diagnose the depressive disorder yourself. That is, don't assume that the person is experiencing depression even if you observe the symptoms of depression.

    Many medical problems can cause depressive symptoms. Thyroid disorders, adrenal disorders, gastrointestinal problems, liver abnormalities, food allergies and sensitivities, nutritional deficiencies, medication side effects, and the abuse of drugs and alcohol are just a few that your doctor needs to rule out. It may be that your loved one has one of these medical disorders other than depression.

    Even if your friend has a clinical depressive disorder, there are several types of depression. It is important that a qualified health care professional diagnose the depression.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, don't just ignore the symptoms. As was mentioned earlier, your help may make a difference in how successfully your friend or family member copes with his or her depression.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, don't pressure your depressed loved one to do what you think they need to do. You may think that he or she needs to go to the doctor, take medication, get counseling, increase his or her activities, go back to work, etc. And you may be right. Nevertheless, if you put pressure on the depressed person, you may cause what psychologists call reactance. The depressed person may respond by not wanting to do what you are suggesting. He or she may resist the help which you are offering and become even more isolated.

    A second thing that may happen is that he or she may comply with what you are recommending, but only superficially. On the outside, he or she is going through the motions of changing but not on the inside. On the inside, he or she is staying the same, with the same attitudes or belief systems and behavior patterns. Any benefits he or she receives will likely be minimal.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, don't criticize the depressed person. One of the symptoms of depression is to have an overly critical attitude towards one's self. If you criticize the person, you will strengthen or reinforce this self critical attitude, further lowering his or her self esteem, and making the depression worse.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, don't expect the depressed person to overcome his or her depression all by himself or herself. When depressed a person can't "pull himself or herself up by his or her boot straps." The depression relates to chemical changes which have taken place in the brain. A person can't just change his or her brain chemistry back to normal.

  • When helping someone who is depressed, don't get discouraged. Depression is treatable. With proper treatment depressed people get better and can live happy, normal, productive lives despite their depressive disorders.

    Should I try to legally force a depressed friend or family member into treatment?

    Most of the time, forcing someone to do something against his or her will is not helpful. Because the depressed person is not wanting to change, he or she may resist the help. He or she may become angry at you. Thus, it will be more difficult for you to have a positive influence on him or her in the future.

    Nevertheless, there are important exceptions to this rule of thumb. One exception is if you believe your depressed friend is in danger of hurting himself or herself. If the depressed person has become suicidal or if he or she is actively hurting himself or herself, you need to take action immediately.

    Another exception is when you believe the depressed person may hurt someone else. If your depressed friend or family member is threatening another person or if he or she is neglecting his or her children, you need to take action.

    The action which you will need to take to help the uncooperative depressed person will vary from place to place. Most states in the USA allow a medical doctor or psychologist to hospitalize a person against his or her will if the person is in danger of hurting himself or herself or someone else. The emergency hospitalization is usually short term, but gives the medical staff at the hospital time to assess the depression. After 24 to 72 hours, the patient and a representative from the hospital attend a hearing in court. The judge determines if the patient will have to stay in the hospital for a longer period of time.

    You may be reluctant to resort to such measures. However, if your depressed friend or family member is in danger of hurting himself or herself, you need to do what you can to intervene. It will be a real tragedy if you do nothing and your loved one actually does commit suicide or does hurt someone else. Even if the depressed person is very upset with you later, you may have saved his or her life.

    There is also a good chance that the depressed person will be grateful later. Of course there is no guarantee of this. But I have talked with many people who have come into the hospital involuntarily feeling very angry toward the person who had them hospitalized. After a few days, when his or her depression is improving, he or she is glad someone cared enough to do something.

    If you believe you need to have your depressed loved one hospitalized involuntarily, seek help immediately. Try talking to the depressed person's doctor. Another source of help may be a local mental health center or psychiatric hospital. Employee assistance programs often have resources which you can utilize. You may be able to find additional resources by calling a suicide hotline or crisis service.

    Whatever you do, don't be passive. Take the necessary steps now.

    A resource which you may find helpful.

    The How To Transform Your Life E-Workshop is a resource which you and your depressed friend or family member may find helpful. The E-Workshop can help a depressed person learn self-development and coping skills. By using these skills, he or she can manage stress more effectively, cope better with problems, and develop a more satisfying life. To learn more, click here.

    Having learned about helping someone who is depressed, you may want to return to the homepage. To go to the homepage, click here.