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January 5, 2012

How to Help a Depressed Friend or Family Member

Nearly 19 million Americans are affected by depression annually, so if you have a loved one suffering from depression, you're not alone. Here are some ways you can help. One of the most important ways you can help your loved one is to become familiar with the symptoms of depression, which is a serious mental illness. People who suffer from depression typically experience feelings of intense sadness, hopelessness and a profound sense of emptiness. It's not uncommon for people suffering from depression to be reluctant or embarrassed to seek help. Showing the depressed person information about depression symptoms and the help that's available may help them recognize they need professional support. Experts advise, however, that caregivers shouldn't attempt to be a therapist to their loved one. Instead, they say it's much more important to always be willing to listen, and ensure the depressed person visits a health care professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Ensuring your loved one gets professional help and complies with treatment directions can feel like a tremendous responsibility, especially when they're angry or hostile, as is often the case with depression. If possible, enlist family members and friends to help support your depressed loved one. It's also important to know the warning signs of suicide, which is a very real risk of depression. When a person is depressed, they may not actually want to die, but may simply feel like suicide is the only way to end their pain. Signs that a person may be contemplating suicide include: preoccupation with death or dying; talking or joking about suicide; giving away prized possessions; stockpiling pills or buying a gun; and calling people to say goodbye. Unfortunately, people suffering from depression often attempt to "self-medicate" with alcohol or drugs, which can impair judgment, heighten impulsivity and increase the risk of suicide. If you believe your loved one may be suicidal, call 911, a suicide crisis hotline or the person's therapist. Never leave a potentially suicidal person alone! It's vital that your loved one adheres to a regular treatment schedule. Remind them that it may take time for depression symptoms to improve but people do get better! In the meantime, help your loved one feel connected by maintaining normal activities. For example, you might suggest taking the dog for a walk, going to a movie or having dinner at a favorite restaurant. Experts recommend that you don't try to do everything for the depressed person. But do find ways to avoid aggravating the self-image of a depressed loved one who may be neglecting household chores or self-care. You might suggest a visit to the hairdresser, or put together a schedule for bills or grocery shopping, which may also help your depressed loved one feel more in control. If you have a loved one who's suffering from depression, your encouragement and support can be key to their recovery. To learn more, see additional videos about depression on this site.

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Last Updated:
December 20, 2012