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Your intentions are good: You want to reach out to a friend or family member who’s showing serious signs of depression. But there isn’t always an easy answer for what to say, which actions to take, and, generally, on how to help someone with depression.
Your friend may not realize he or she is depressed or may not be willing to accept your help. Realize that you cannot “cure” that person, no matter how hard you try. What you can do is help your friend or family member recognize that there is a problem, let him or her know you care, and suggest professional help.
Approaching a Friend or Loved One
If a loved one is showing depression symptoms, your first thought may be, “How to help?” Someone with depression likely can benefit if you bring to him or her a few recommendations for local services—the names and phone numbers of therapists or support groups, for example.
Resources where you can suggest profession support include:
- Your doctor: Ask for the name of a heath care professional who specializes in depression.
- Local hospital or medical center: Most will have departments that offer treatment for depression.
- Online support groups: There are several groups online that offer support for those with depression. Among them: Anxiety and Depression Association of America and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
- Local religious or community center: These often offer support services for depression.
- American Psychological Association: Find the APA’s online psychologist locator service at http://locator.apa.org/.
Gently keep track of whether your loved one seeks treatment and takes medication as prescribed. Offer your encouragement along the way.
Identifying Suicide Risk
Most important, be on the lookout for the signs of suicidal tendencies. Among the telltale signs your friend or family member may show:
- Being obsessed with death and frequently talking about it.
- Engaging in risky behaviors—drinking and driving, for example.
- Putting his or her affairs in order.
- Giving away treasured objects.
- Expressing the belief that people will be better off without them.
- Calling people to say goodbye.
- Talking about or posting on social media about committing suicide.
If you see any of these warning signs, call a mental health professional or 911 right away.
How to Help Someone with Depression: Your Watchful Eye
Don’t shy away from asking someone directly about depression. Even trained professionals sometimes don’t recognize the signs and symptoms in themselves. Feedback from a concerned friend or family member is often a helpful “wake-up call,” whether or not that friend or family member decides to act on it right away.
Similarly, don’t hesitate to ask whether a close friend or family member has had any thoughts of self-harm or not wanting to live. Asking about suicide does not make it more likely. On the contrary, it allows a loved one to share the burden and get the help he or she needs.
Suicidal thoughts are often part of being depressed. They do not necessarily require hospitalization, but they do need to be taken seriously, and they always require urgent evaluation.
Remember that you can you cannot force anyone to seek help. If your friend or loved one refuses help, all you can do is make it clear that you are available to provide support should it be desired at a future date. Don’t give up: That’s the most important aspect for anyone wondering how to help someone with depression.
Keep in contact with your loved one, and regularly suggest doing activities together that are healthy for body and mind, such as going for a walk, taking a class, sharing a healthy meal, or having a quiet chat. Try to focus on what your loved one’s interests are (or were) and don’t take it personally if you are frequently rebuffed.
Originally published in May 2016 and updated.