By nature, humans tend to be social and empathetic. If somebody that we love is living with depression and suffering with their mental health and wellbeing, it is natural for us to want to reach out to them and offer our help and support. Most people will hate to see the people that we love struggling, and many of us can relate as we have had to deal with tough feelings in the past in some way or another, especially right now with the COVID19 pandemic leading to increasing rates of depression and anxiety around the world.
It can often be even harder to deal with a situation where we can see somebody that we care about showing signs that they are in serious distress, especially if we are not sure where to start with helping them. Many people want to help but might be afraid of doing the wrong things or making things even worse.
If you are currently going through this with somebody in your life, you are not alone. The good news is that there are many different ways that you can offer help and support and it is possible to support somebody that you love and care about who is going through a tough time while making sure that you take care of yourself too. If you suspect that somebody you care about is currently struggling with depression, here are some of the main signs and symptoms to look out for, along with various ways that you can help and be there for them while keeping your own mental health in check.
The Signs of Depression
According to CDC statistics from 2019, around 5% of adults in the US live with depression – a number that is expected to be much higher now due to the COVID19 pandemic. This year, a report from Mental Health America found that the number of people seeking mental health support as a result of the COVID19 pandemic has skyrocketed.
If you want to help a friend who you think may be dealing with depression, one of the most important things to know is that it can be unique to each individual. Even if you have suffered from depression yourself, you might find that other people in your life have different symptoms and feelings to yourself.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression that you might have noticed or heard about from a loved one include feeling sad or being in low spirits, changes to sleeping patterns including sleeping more or less than usual, changes to appetite and weight, feelings of hopelessness, shame, and guilt, shutting down and feeling tired most of the time, and being pessimistic or feeling hopeless about the future.
Some other common symptoms of depression that your loved one might tell you about or you may notice when interacting with them include:
- No longer having or showing any interest in the things that they enjoyed doing
- Being more reclusive, isolating themselves, and spending less time around people
- Trouble focusing when having a conversation or seeming more distracted than usual
- Problems remembering things
- Discussing self-harm or death
- Physical symptoms including stomach aches, headaches, and muscle pain
There are a lot of potential symptoms that a person could experience when they are going through depression. This condition is often not caused by one single thing but may be the result of different factors combined including high stress levels, family problems, major changes in their life, past trauma, genetics, personal history, underlying health conditions, and substance abuse name a few. If you have noticed that a friend or family member is displaying or talking about experiencing some of these symptoms, here are some of the best things that you can do to help.
Listen to Them
For many people with depression, it can be a very isolating experience. One of the simplest and best things that you can do is to let your family member or friend know that they do not have to go through this alone and that you’re there to listen to them and try to help whenever you can. Doing this doesn’t have to be complicated, either. Don’t give unsolicited advice, try to argue against what they are feeling, or try to take their problems on as your own and fix them – simply listen to what they are going through and ask them if there is anything that they would like you to do to help.
Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is to just keep listening. If you can relate to how they are feeling, it might help them feel better if you share some of your own experiences and what you learned from them. Many people with depression feel better knowing that somebody cares and understands what they are going through.
Help Them With Finding Support
Many people with depression decide to seek professional help, but this can be an overwhelming experience for them. The pandemic has led to a high demand for therapists, which has caused counselor stress and in some areas, a shortage of professionals who are actually available to help due to the high workload that they currently have. However, today, there are more options than ever before for people who want help with their mental health.
While this can be a good thing, it can also be highly overwhelming for people with depression, who might find it easier to just log off and leave it for another day. Offering to help them find the support that they need is one of the best things that you can do as a friend or relative to ease this burden on your loved one. You may want to help them with finding online therapy that might be an easier experience for them right now or look for professionals who can help in your area through services like the American Psychological Association.
Once you have helped them to get into treatment, the best thing to do is encourage them to keep going. Often, getting help can be tough for somebody who is depressed, so don’t expect them to come back feeling much better from their first visit or call with a therapist. In some cases, they might feel worse before they feel better – this is completely normal and the best thing that you can do is encourage them to stick at it and remind them of how proud you are of them for taking this huge step and the progress that they have made so far. If they mention wanting to quit treatment, suggest that they talk it over with a mental health professional before making any decisions. If they’ve made noticeable progress, be sure to tell them as it’s often easier for other people to see this before the person themselves does.
Help With Everyday Tasks
People who are living with depression might often find small tasks like cleaning up in the home or taking a shower very emotionally taxing. For this reason, you can make a huge difference to somebody’s day by offering to help them with something that might seem quite small or insignificant. For example, offering to walk the dog, drive them to the grocery store, wash the dishes, vacuum the living room, or start a load of laundry for them can help to take what seems like a massive load off their mind.
Encourage Them to Do Positive Activities Together
To help somebody with depression, there are plenty of positive activities that you can do together with them to help improve both their mood and yours. Research has shown that there are several activities that can help people with depression to feel better and recover, including spending time in nature, making art, yoga, and swimming. If your friend or relative feels up to it, suggest doing one of these activities together. Start off small as it might be overwhelming for them and let them lead when it comes to where you do the activity and how long you will participate in it for.
Spending time with animals can be one good thing to do together that may actively improve your mental health. Researchers have long suggested that pets can help us feel better and improve our mental health in many ways. If you have a pet, letting your friend or relative spend more time around them can be a good place to start – or you could even offer to help them find information on adopting a pet as their own.
Stay in Touch
Isolating oneself is a common symptom of depression, which often steps from struggling to get things done. Social activities can go forgotten about and messages left unread, which leads to more shame about not being able to get it together, creating a vicious cycle where your loved one might not feel able to reach out to you. Proactively stay in touch and understand that even if they’re not responding very quickly right now, they will appreciate that you have not forgotten about them.
Depression can be a debilitating condition to live with. If you want to help a loved one deal with this mental health problem, these are some of the best ways to help and support them.
*Photos by Valeriia Miller