One caring adult

Just one supportive person can make a powerful difference in the life of a person dealing with depression. Here, people who have filled that role lend their advice about helping lift others out of depression’s hopelessness.

Understand the Situation

Educating yourself about depression is a good place to start. “Understanding what is triggering the depression is key,” says Jessica Pastirik of Streator, Ill., who has helped multiple loved ones through depression. The WebPsychology article “Depression: Understanding It” is a good introductory resource.

Although having been through your own hard times is not a prerequisite for helping someone else, it can provide useful insight into what the other person is experiencing. Karin Black of Oak Harbor, Wash., who has walked through depression herself and has also helped friends through it reflects, “I feel as though I can have greater empathy for my friends because of my experiences [with depression].”

Provide Support

Helping someone with depression takes many forms. One way is to speak encouraging truth into the person’s life. Pastirik sys, “Remind them they will get through this, not under it, over it, avoid it, but they will get through it.”

You have to be willing to say the hard stuff, too. Pastirik gives the example of saying, “No, it is not okay to cancel your doctor appointment.” This may even mean that you need to drive her to the appointment or follow up with a phone call to confirm with him that he went.

Practical support is important also, as people with depression can struggle with the stuff of daily life. “They may need help with their children, household chores, shopping,” suggests Black.

Take Care of Yourself

Seeing a friend recover can bring deep satisfaction. Knowing that you made a difference in someone’s life is a positive memory that will stay with you for your entire life. As Black puts it, “I found joy in helping my friend.”

However, just because there are great benefits to providing support doesn’t mean that doing so is always easy. Pastirik shares, “The person helping someone often makes many sacrifices of time, interruptions at all hours of the day and especially at night.” Before you reach burnout, take steps to prevent it. Set boundaries, eat well, get plenty of sleep and join a support group.

Pastirik admits, “In my younger years, I didn’t balance the help I gave as well as I should have. I took too much ownership and had a tendency to over help.” These days, she tries to achieve balance by giving the other person tasks that require taking ownership of the situation.

Recognize Your Limitations

Pastirik counsels, “There is a time when loved ones need to know when the person needs more help than you can give them.” This may be in the form of professional help. Black advises, “Depression is just as real as other health conditions. Most people do not find shame in wearing glasses due to failing eyesight. They should not find shame in getting help for depression.”

Suicide is a very real risk. Know how to recognize the warning signs and contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if they appear.

Pastirik gives a final word of advice: “There are times when people won’t accept your help or advice. Some, unfortunately, even commit suicide. You can’t beat yourself up. You have to work on knowing you did all you could do. You can’t make their choices for them.”

For more information about helping someone with depression, see the WebPsychology resource “How Can I Help a Loved One Who Is Depressed?