One of the questions I'm often asked is, "What Can I Do To Help Someone With Depression?"
The answer: There are many things you can do to help.
1) Listen Compassionately: One of the most important things you can do is to just sit and listen to your loved one. Ask how he or she is feeling - but don’t force them to talk if they aren’t ready. Don’t interrupt, or encourage with sayings or phrases that imply your loved one isn’t working hard enough to break free from depression, like, “Just try harder” or “Maybe you need to get more exercise.” Listening with compassion allows your loved one to express the wrenching physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of depression. And research tells us that this style of listening can help your loved one recover more quickly.
2) Understand Depression: It’s vital to understand depression, its symptoms and treatments - and doing so will help you better relate to your loved one’s experiences. You’ll learn that depression is an illness that has genetic and environmental factors. You'll learn the myths and facts that surround mental illness, which will also help you advocate for your loved one. Psychoeducation is key for any chronic illness. So, make time to learn about depression.
3) Support the Treatment Plan: One critical area of support for children and adults with depression is helping them maintain their treatment plan, including taking their medications as prescribed, seeing healthcare practitioners as recommended, and seeking additional support as necessary. You may need to be the person to remind your loved one to take medication, help set up appointments, pick up prescriptions, and other such things. You can also encourage healthy sleep, eating and exercising by being a role model. And never, ever, use stigmatizing remarks that reflect mental illness in a negative light.
4) Help with Day-to-Day Living: Often, people with depression have difficulty with some of the basics of day-to-day living. If severe enough, depression can leave a person completely immobilized, unmotivated and unable to do many of life’s simplest tasks. During these times, a person with depression will need support in ordinary activities —like eating, grooming or just getting out of bed. Children with milder forms of depression may need support to get homework done, connect with friends, or do chores around the house. Adults, too, will likely benefit from you checking in on them when it comes to cleaning the house, paying bills, grocery shopping and how things are going at work.
5) Encourage Regular Activities: Depression often splinters people from their social and personal connections. Try to encourage your loved one to maintain the kinds of activities that keep them connected. Help a depressed child or adult keep a regular routine, with structure and purpose focused on work, school, family, friends and free time. These habits tap into the reward center of the brain, releasing feel-good hormones dopamine and serotonin. As a side note, don’t force your loved one to do things if they aren’t ready, but do try to help them stay connected to others.
6) Recognize Warning Signs for Suicide: Research reports that upwards of 70% of people with depression will likely have a relapse. Therefore, it’s crucial to take any behavioral changes or emotional statements seriously, especially ones that suggest hopelessness, suicide, death or not wanting to be “in pain anymore.” You should know who to call, where to go and what to do should your loved one lapse into a serious episode of depression. This is called an emergency plan. Creating a crisis plan with your loved one gives you both confidence there will be go-to interventions ready and waiting.
Dr. Deborah Serani is author of the award-winning books "Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers" and "Living with Depression"by Rowman & Littlefield. Her next book “Depression in Later Life” launches June 2016.