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Helping others

Millions suffer from depression each year. If you know or love someone with depression, you’re affected, too.

You are impacted by the changes you see in your loved one and may feel unable to help. The good news is that depression is a treatable illness; it is not a moral failing or emotional weakness. As you help your family member or friend through depression, you also need to take care of yourself; caregiving can take a physical and emotional toll

Simple actions send loving messages

The most important step you can take is to help your loved one find treatment. Even after treatment begins, relief may take some time. Your friend or relative may get discouraged. Encourage your loved one to stick with treatment. It’s also important to find out what your loved one wants. Ask and then listen carefully.

Additional steps you can take:

  • Offer to take your loved one to appointments.
  • Call or visit regularly; social isolation increases depression.
  • Take your loved one out for simple outings, walks, and other activities he used to enjoy, like going to the movies.
  • Help around the house; for someone with depression, getting out of bed can take enormous energy. Knowing that someone is handling the regular chores brings a lot of relief.
  • Never ignore suicidal comments. Contact your loved one’s healthcare provider.
  • Continue to remind her that depression is temporary and that with time and treatment, the negative feelings will go away.
  • Help him remember to take prescribed medication and stick to the treatment plan.

Words of encouragement make a difference

As your loved one begins to recover, she may think she will always feel as discouraged as she does now. Remind her that recovery takes time and that even if she can’t see her own progress, you can. You can also help by reminding her that her true personality is different from the symptoms she is exhibiting (withdrawal or irritation, for example). Also reassure her that the future is going to be different and better.

As you offer encouragement, do your best to avoid crossing the line into rushing, nagging, or pressuring. Your loved one is rebuilding and recovering. Just like recuperating from any illness, returning to full strength can take longer than expected. And in the case of depression, returning to full strength often means recovering a sense of self, personal safety, and emotional balance.

Keeping lists help you help your loved one

You may need to have certain information within arm’s reach if your loved one goes into a crisis. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers the following suggestions.

Suggestons for keeping important information at hand:

  • Keep a list of contact information for your loved one. This includes emergency phone numbers and contact information for the doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, and hospital. It’s also wise to know how to reach family and trusted friends in case of a crisis.
  • Find out if you have your loved one’s permission to discuss treatment with his or her doctors. Medical information is private, so unless you have explicit permission from your loved one, the doctors might not be able to share detailed information.
  • Get a list of treatments and/or medications your loved one is receiving. Be sure to obtain dosing instructions and schedule. Check to see if there are any dietary restrictions and ask about any potential interactions with existing prescription or over-the-counter medications.

Offering emotional support is important in recovery from depression. But practical, day-to-day help and monitoring are just as important.

Phrases to use and sayings to avoid

Remember that old saying, “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt you”? Whoever made that up was wrong.

Some words can inflict emotional damage. Other words demonstrate compassion, support, and caring. To help your loved one navigate depression, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provides suggestions on what to say and what not to say.

Supportive phrases:

  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • I understand you have a real illness and that’s what causes these thoughts and feelings.
  • You many not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you want to give up, tell yourself you will hold off for just one more day, hour, minute -- whatever you can manage.
  • You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
  • Tell me what I can do now to help you.
  • I am here for you. We will get through this together.

Phrases to avoid:

  • It’s all in your head.
  • We all go through times like this.
  • You’ll be fine. Stop worrying.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • You have so much to live for—why do you want to die?
  • I can’t do anything about your situation.
  • Just snap out of it.
  • Stop acting crazy.
  • What’s wrong with you?
  • Shouldn’t you be better by now?

Depression affects you, too

Your loved one has depression, but you’re also affected. You may feel overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, and confused. Other common reactions are hurt, anger, resentment and frustration, guilt, sadness, fear, or exhaustion. These are normal feelings and you do not need to feel shame about them. Helping someone through depression can be draining.

To provide the best support for your loved one, you need to take care of yourself. Talking to others who have been in your situation is a big help. Seek out support groups and talk with friends or family members or those in your faith community. You might be surprised about how many others in your circle have either dealt with depression themselves or helped a love one through it.

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