If you have a loved one who is depressed, it can feel like you are completely helpless and there is nothing you can do to help. But this isn’t true. In fact, having a healthy support system is one of the tools people with depression use to help with their symptoms along with therapy and medication. Without a healthy support system, going through treatment or trying to get to the point where you search for treatment can feel almost impossible. So what can you do to support someone who has depression?
1. Understand Depression
Mental illness is lonely. Being alone in your head in a way that people on the outside can’t understand makes it hard to feel like anyone is even there. Someone with depression can be in a room full of people who love them and still feel completely isolated because of the way their brain works. Understanding depression is the very first step toward helping someone survive this time in their life. Knowing their symptoms and the reasons behind their behaviors when you are trying to support them can be a big help.
If you don’t know the basics about depression, here is a little crash course for you to get started.
Depression is a serious condition that you shouldn’t underestimate. It is a thief of energy, positivity, and motivation. Their symptoms can make it difficult for them to connect with you emotionally, so don’t take anything personally. Their symptoms can also drive them to say hurtful things they don’t mean, lashing out in seemingly unexplained anger. It can feel like they are attacking you, but you need to remember that their brain chemistry is very different.
Depression and the Brain
In the depressed brain, there are several abnormalities that can cause your loved one to become someone that no one wants to be. No one enjoys being depressed, even though it can get very comfortable for some when it is all they know. Knowing that it is their brain chemistry and not them can help you keep your cool and make you a better listener.
Depression and the Hippocampus
One of the things that is different in a depressed brain is that the hippocampus is smaller. The hippocampus is mainly in control of memories and emotional regulation. This can cause someone who is depressed to have a bad memory and poor mood regulation which is going to cause you to learn how to have extra patience.
Depression and the Medial Prefrontal Cortex
The medial prefrontal cortex is in control of decision making and plays a significant role in behavior and social skills. Someone who is depressed may have a hard time choosing what food to eat so decided to go sit on the couch and be hungry instead or have a hard time discerning a social cue. Studies have found that the problem isn’t that the medial prefrontal cortex doesn’t have enough activity, it is that it has too much control.
Because their prefrontal cortex is malfunctioned, someone who is depressed can be more consumed with thoughts about themselves. This isn’t in a selfish aspect where they think they are the only thing that matters; it is more of having constant negative thoughts about themselves that they can’t stop from bombarding their brain. So when you have a loved one with depression who can’t stop talking about how they are the worst, this is their brain not letting them break out of that negative cycle.
Depression and the Amygdala
Another region of the brain that has been strongly linked to depression is the amygdala which is our alarm system. The amygdala controls your fight or flight response, letting the rest of your body know that you are in danger and it helps to make your body ready to fight or flight. Someone who is depressed has an overactive amygdala making the alarm system in their body triggers more often causing anxiety, fear, and anger to become common symptoms.
Symptoms of Depression to be Aware Of
- They don’t care about anything anymore. Sex, work, games, friends, and family don’t interest them.
- Sleeping less than usual or oversleeping
- Drug abuse, including painkillers and sleeping pills
- Headaches, stomach pains, and back pain
- Brain fog
- Constantly negative
2. Remind Them Success and Happiness is Possible
One of the things that people with depression struggle with is looking into the future. Their brains cause them to be stuck in place, only thinking about the negativity around them and within them. This is not telling them not to feel the way they do because it will get better, this is a simple reminder that there are many people who have depression and learn to cope with it and go on to live happy and successful lives. It isn’t just “it gets better.” It’s “it gets better for people like you, and it’s proven.”
3. Help Them Get Help
People with depression are the best at excuses; they have been making them for some time. When they feel sick to do anything, most of the time people don’t understand depression so they make up excuses so they can recover. Don’t let them use this trick on you. If they aren’t well, they need to see a doctor. If they had a bullet wound, sure they wouldn’t be expected to go to work. But they also shouldn’t sit at home and let the wound fester without getting medical attention. Drive them, find a number to call the call, look up therapists for them. Take a step out of the process to make it more attractive for them. But don’t force it, nothing works when you force it.
4. Help with Coping
Help them with their coping strategies and remind them to use them. It is really easy to fall into old coping mechanisms that aren’t healthy, but with love and support, they can get through it. Try not to be too overbearing, because they most likely know what they are supposed to be doing. Try to be encouraging and understanding. Some healthy coping mechanisms look like:
- Seeing a therapist
- Expressive writing
- Having a schedule they stick to
- Rely on others
- Practice healthy hygiene
- Sleeping well
5. Start The Conversation
The thing about depression is it keeps you from doing what will make you better. People with depression have no motivation to eat right, exercise, or talk about their problems. It is common for people with depression to have an overwhelming sense of guilt for seemingly no reason, making asking for help or talking about their feels seem like they are just going to be a burden to others. If you notice that your loved one is showing signs of depression, start the conversation about it.
Coming out and saying, “Are you depressed?” May not work. But some conversation starters can give you a good idea of what is going on in their head.
- I noticed things have been off, are you okay?
- You seem pretty down lately, thought I’d check in to see how you are doing.
- I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, how is everything going?
These extended olive branches are a great way to get your loved one to open up. This doesn’t mean they will every time, but you are giving them a safe environment to express how they are feeling. They may not feel like anyone wants to hear about how depressed they are, and your concern can help prove them wrong.
6. Ask Questions
Someone who is depressed may still feel scared to open up to you, not knowing how much they should let you know. Asking them questions is a great way to get them talking about how they feel and it is a great way to make them feel better. Some questions you can ask that can help them work through their depression are:
- When did you start feeling like this?
- What can I do to support you right now?
- Did something happen that caused you to feel like this?
- Have you thought about talking to someone professionally?
7. Keep in Touch
Your depressed friend or family member might not reach out to you when they need help. One of the symptoms is pushing people away who care about them. You’ll notice, a lot of symptoms of depression make the illness even worse. If you have the mental headspace, reach out to your friends and family and keep up with them. Ask them how the doctor is going, how the medicine is working, what coping skills have they been working on. And don’t just send a questionnaire and call it a day, be sincere and care about them.
Things to Remember
Don’t Force It
If they aren’t ready to talk, they won’t. You can’t force them to open up to you. All you can really do is let them know that you are there for them when they are ready.
Mind Your Own Mind
Make sure that you have the mental head space to take on someone else’s issues before you dive in. If you desert them because it is too much for you at the moment, it can just make their fears of being a burden a reality. Make sure that you are healthy so that you can be the pillar of strength that they need.
You Might Cause Guilt
When you do something nice like clean their house for them because they can’t get out of bed, this can make them feel an uncomfortable amount of guilt. Try to remind them that they are worthy of getting better and healthy and what you are doing for them is something they deserve. Build them up!
Do you suffer from depression? What is something that someone has done for you that help you? Leave it in the comment section below!