Supporting a Loved One With Depression: 4 Challenges and How to Overcome Them
It can be exhausting to have a loved one going through a period of depression. There are multiple challenges you could face as a support system, and most of them come when you’re considering how to move forward.
What kind of questions should you ask? What should you say to this person? What should you not say to this person?
Supporting someone with depression comes with a range of questions and challenges. Below, we discuss some of the common obstacles, as well as ways to move forward, ensuring you become the best support system you can.
Understanding depression is the first and most important challenge many people face. They might hear that their loved one is depressed, but don’t fully understand what that means.
Keep in mind that depression does not mean sadness. Yes, someone can be sad and possibly depressed when they lose a family member—this is natural. This form of sadness, though, isn’t necessarily depression.
Depression isn’t isolated to an internal conflict. It can manifest itself through physical symptoms as well. Those with depression may experience fatigue, lack of sleep, irritability, and a long list of other physical symptoms.
Someone who is depressed is different than someone who is sad. You can’t cheer them up by cracking a joke—they may be stuck in that mindset for prolonged periods. Depression affects their day-to-day life and their ability to function normally.
Try to validate their feelings instead of working against them. Be understanding towards them instead of trying to change the subject to a lighter topic.
Should You Provide Advice?
It’s natural to want to offer advice to a friend or family member who is dealing with depression. You want them to feel better about themselves, so you try to offer tactics that will change their overall mindset.
If a loved one has a toothache, for instance, you’ll tell them to take some pain medication or go to the dentist because you don’t want to see them suffering.
Unfortunately, this inclination is not always best when it comes to depression. Consider that your loved one may be sensitive, and therefore, could interpret your well-intentioned advice as condescending or a misunderstanding on your part.
Instead of offering advice, try asking questions. Ask about what you can do differently, or how you can change your behaviour. This will give your loved one the opportunity to reach out for assistance.
Offer advice only if the person asks for it. They might need some guidance, but allow them to search for it on their own terms. Often, the best thing you can do to offer support is ensuring your loved one knows you’re there for them.
What About Tough Love?
Some people are inclined to take a “tough love” approach to someone dealing with depression. They think they can force them out of a negative mindset by being hard on them.
This approach may have even worked with you when you were feeling bad for yourself as a child. Your mum or dad might have turned you around by telling you how good you have it when compared to some other people in the world.
Depression, though, isn’t so easily managed. People with depression often realise that they’re bringing other people down with them, but that only makes them feel worse about their situation.
Being around a loved one who is constantly down and depressed can get annoying after a while. You might feel like they need to snap out of it, and may even tell them as much.
Although this approach is understandable, it can be harmful to the person who is experiencing a period of depression. Remain supportive instead of becoming impatient, no matter how difficult it might be.
Being patient with someone going through a prolonged period of depression is easier said than done. If you spend a lot of time with this person, you might feel like you need to shake them and tell them to ‘snap out of it’ after a while.
Instead of giving in to that urge, try to hang on for as long as you can. Your patience might make this person realise that there is someone in their life who truly cares about them.
Unconditional love is a powerful tool for combating depression. Be there for your loved one through the bad times as well as the good, and they’ll know you love them for who they are instead of how they act.
The ‘No Big Deal’ Mindset
It’s often difficult to understand exactly why someone is depressed. Everything could be going great in their life, but they still seem sad and introspective every time you see them.
Your reaction to this might be to tell them that everything is fantastic, and express judgement that they shouldn’t be feeling the way that they are.
You might think this way on the inside, but never bring it up with the other person. Depression can present itself at any point in a person’s life—no matter how well you might think things are going.
Additionally, there might be a behind-the-scenes event that you don’t know about. Don’t judge someone for the way they’re feeling. Simply listen, and try to empathise and understand their struggle—even if you don’t.
Supporting Depressed Loved Ones
Depression can affect loved ones as well as the person suffering. It’s hard to know where the line is, and what kind of questions and statements will only make things worse.
These tips will hopefully help you through some of the common struggles you’ll encounter as a support structure. Often, the key is to offer guidance when it is requested, but don’t be overbearing with your urge to help.
Seek further support if you think your loved one has become suicidal, or if you’re struggling, yourself. There is always support available—whether it be your GP, psychologist, a trusted friend or Lifeline on 13 11 14. You don’t have to handle it all on your own.