Knowing the right thing to do or say can be really hard, especially if youve never dealt with depression yourself. But being unsure of the correct move doesnt mean you should stay quiet.
The best way to express concern about a loved ones depression is to ask to be invited to their struggles, says psychotherapist Brandon Santan, PhD. Let them know you notice somethings going on and express empathy.
Looking for some tips to get the conversation going and offer ongoing support? Santan and Kaylin Staten, a 31-year-old from West Virginia who has struggled with depression for most of her life, lent us their thoughts. Heres their advice for how to give your loved one the care they need.
1. Dont tell them how they seem.
When you appear combative or judgmental, a person with a mental health issue will not open up to you, says Staten, of her own experience.
Say something that gets taken the wrong way, and theres a good chance theyll shut down completely.
How you approach the conversation can make all the difference. Instead of describing how you think the person feels (like You seem sad, or You seem depressed, just ask them how theyre feeling or whats been on their mind. I've found that listening and asking open-ended questions will help drive the conversation in a positive way, Staten says.
2. Listen, but dont try to solve their problems.
You might want to offer a fix or tell your loved one you know how they feel. But unless youve actually struggled with depression yourself, resist the urge to tell them what you would do, recommends Santan. The reason: If you start talking about your self, it might make your loved one clam up, Santan notes.
You canand shouldtry to empathize and show your support. Just do it in a way that keeps the focus on them. I [respond best when people] say something like, I cannot directly relate to that, but it sounds like that is something thats really hard to deal with, Staten says. Sometimes a little bit of validation can go a long way.
3. Make plans, but keep them low-key.
Even if your loved one isnt actively asking you to hang out, an offer to get together reminds them that youre thinking of them and that you care. Instead of asking them to come along to a party or club, though, suggest a one-on-one activity where theres less pressure to act upbeat or socialize with lots of people.
Suggest a one-on-one activity where theres less pressure to act upbeat.
A walk in the park, a late afternoon movie, a quiet restaurant, or even a drive through the country would all be better, says Santan. (Thats especially true if the person has substance abuse problems, since alcohol or drugs and depression dont mix well.) They might not be up for it every time, and thats okay. You can still keep asking.
4. Try not to take rejection personally.
It can be tough to shake the thought that youre doing something wrong when your loved one is withdrawn or wants to be alone a lot. But theyre not pushing you away on purposeso dont turn it into that. Its not about you, and theyre not doing it to harm you in any way. He or she honestly needs some time alone, says Staten.
Whats more, suggesting that their need for space is somehow bringing you down will probably just make them feel worse. Instead of fixating on what you might be doing wrong or how youre hurting, take a step back. Look at the whole equation and focus on the other factors in your loved ones life that may be contributing to their depression, Santan says.
5. Know when to bring in a professional.
You cant force someone with depression to go to a therapist, and trying to will usually just push them away. But you should seek help if you sense that your loved ones depression is getting worse.
Downhill signs might include a change in sleeping or eating habits, acting more isolated or withdrawn, poor self-care, not being able to take care of their usual responsibilities, or excessive crying, agitation, or irritability, Santan says. If the depression worsens but there are no medical emergencies such as suicidal thoughts, talk with the persons medical doctor, he says.
Seek medical attention ASAP if your loved one is showing signs of thinking about suicide.
Of course, you should seek emergency medical attention ASAP if your loved one is showing any signs of thinking about suicidelike talking about wanting to die, looking for ways to commit suicide, talking about feeling hopeless or trapped, talking about being a burden to others, or behaving recklessly.
Do whatever is necessary to keep them safe, regardless of whether or not you think they want that kind of help, says Santan. Call 911, go to the nearest emergency room, or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.