My Loved One is Depressed, What Can I Do?

At some stage of our lives we have all felt sad, lonely and even depressed. But when these feelings become overwhelming and affects your day-to-day activities, , it may be time to get some outside help when your own efforts don’t seem to work out.

Depression is the term we use to describe a state of low mood that can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior which brings with it a significant impact to an individual’s ability to function socially as well as at work or study.

Common Symptoms of Depression

  • Persistently feeling sad, pessimistic, anxious and guilty
  • Constantly bursting into tears without solid reason
  • Feeling empty, hopeless and lost
  • Irritable and restless
  • Loss of self-worth or self-esteem
  • Difficulty in sleeping (insomnia), poor sleep quality or excessive sleeping
  • Decreased physical energy and easily fatigued
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once pleasurable
  • Difficulty concentrating, poor decision making and memory
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or attempts
  • Occurrence of medically unexplained physical symptoms

Helping a Loved One Who is Depressed

Dealing with depression is not easy, more so if you are facing it alone. It does not only affect the person suffering from it but their loved ones as well.

If someone you love is suffering from depression, you may be experiencing a number of difficult emotions such as sadness, frustration, helplessness, fear, anger, guilt and anxiousness. These feelings are normal. A vital factor for combating depression is support from family members and close friends.

My mother has been living with depression for many years. These are some of the things that my family and I have found helpful to support my mom and to get ourselves through tough times together.

1. Understanding depression

‘She is not the same person I used to know.’

It took my family a long time to understand depression. It can change someone from being bright and bubbly to someone completely different. Depressed people often say hurtful things and lash out in anger. My mother used to be caring and loving. Unfortunately, her journey with depression has caused her to change into someone who lashes out at her loved ones, causing immense hurt to us.

What helped my family and I was reminding ourselves to not take it personally. We recognized that my mother was going through a tough time, and this was her way of trying to fight the negative feelings that she had. She was unable to contain them, so she released it onto us.


2. Accepting depression

‘She is just being difficult and unreasonable.’

At some point, you may doubt if your loved one is truly depressed or if they are just being difficult. I remember how long it took me to convince my family to accept the fact that my mother is facing a real clinical condition.

Acknowledging that your loved one is having depression is one of the hardest things to do, but accepting the fact will lead to better understanding of the condition and ultimately make more well-informed decisions for your loved one’s well-being.

3. Be an empathetic listener

‘She’s always complaining about the same thing’

Being a compassionate listener is much more important than giving advice or ‘fixing’ the problem. Most of the time, people with depression just need someone to listen to their feelings and a platform to express their emotions.

But just being there can be frustrating for you especially when you feel as helpless as your loved one. But don’t lose hope! Don’t ever underestimate the physical presence of a loved one, as well as a good cry on your shoulders. Don’t forget that sometimes, all that is needed is your presence.

4. Starting a conversation

‘I don’t want to talk to her, she’s just going to shout at me’

People with depression can be very sensitive to your words. Therefore, picking the right time to start a conversation and saying the right things to say can be a big help. There are different ways to start the conversation such as “You seemed pretty down lately, do you want to have a word?” or “I was wondering if you’re alright”. Being supportive involves offering encouragement and hope. Using the right sentences or words is important when having a conversation with someone who is depressed:

What you can say that helps:

  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling can change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold on for just one more day, hour, minute — whatever you can manage. And when you can’t, look for me.
  • You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
  • Tell me what I can do now to help you.

Avoid saying:

  • It’s all in your head.
  • We all go through times like this.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • You have so much to live for why do you want to die?
  • I can’t do anything about your situation.
  • Just snap out of it.
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Shouldn’t you be better by now?
Adapted from: The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

5. Know your limit and take care of yourself

‘I can’t take it anymore, I’m not dealing with her problems anymore!’

The last tip I would like to share is the importance of self-care. It is stressful enough to be the support system for a loved one with depression but taking care of yourself is equally as important. Knowing your limit and setting boundaries on what you are willing and able to do is important to avoid burnout.

Secondly, speak up for yourself. It is all right to be honest and gently talk about your feelings with the depressed person before resentments build. Remember that they are depressed, but not irrational. They are still able to take on what people say and put themselves in other’s shoes.

Next, stay on track with your own life. Living with a person with depression is not the worst thing in the world but you should keep doing things that make life enjoyable for yourself as well. Lastly, seek support when required. There is no shame in admitting you need somebody to talk to when you are feeling the strain of caring for individuals with depression. Seeking professional help might be the best decision you will ever make in such situations.

“Depression can kill you. It can also be a spiritually enriching experience. It’s really an important part of my theology now and my spirituality that life is not perfect, and I grew up wanting it to be and thinking that if it wasn’t, I could make it that way, and I had to acknowledge that I had all kinds of flaws and sadness and problems.” –Krista Tippett


Is someone close to you depressed? How do you deal with it? Share your experience with us in the comments section below or on our Facebook page!

Contributed by: Lim Suat Ping, Health psychologist at The Mind Psychological Services & Training 

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