Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
Help a family member or friend dealing with depression get treatment and find resources.
By Mayo Clinic Staff
Helping someone with depression can be a challenge. If someone in your life has depression, you may feel helpless and wonder what to do. Learn how to offer support and understanding and how to help your loved one get the resources to cope with depression. Here's what you can do.
Learn the signs and symptoms of depression
Depression signs and symptoms vary from person to person. They can include:
- Feeling sad, down or "empty"
- Losing interest in activities that were once a source of pleasure
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or helpless
- Feeling irritable or restless
- Changes in appetite, and losing or gaining weight unintentionally
- Sleeping poorly or oversleeping
- Feeling tired or having less energy
- Having persistent feelings of guilt
- Having trouble thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Decreased capability and performance
- Having thoughts of suicide
- Abusing alcohol or drugs
People with depression may not recognize or acknowledge that they're depressed. They may not be aware of signs and symptoms of depression, so they may think their feelings are normal.
All too often, people feel ashamed about their depression and mistakenly believe they should be able to overcome it with willpower alone. But depression seldom gets better without treatment and may get worse. With the right treatment approach, the person you care about can get better. In addition, here's what you can do to help.
- Talk to the person about what you've noticed and why you're concerned.
- Explain that depression is a medical condition, not a personal flaw or weakness — and that it usually gets better with treatment.
- Suggest that the person see a professional — a medical doctor or a mental health provider, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist.
- Offer to help prepare a list of questions for the person to discuss in an initial appointment with a doctor or mental health provider.
- Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going with the person to appointments and attending family therapy sessions.
If your loved one's illness is severe or potentially life-threatening, contact a doctor, a hospital or emergency medical services.
Identify warning signs of worsening depression
Everyone experiences depression differently. Learn how depression affects your family member or friend — and learn what to do when it gets worse. Observe your loved one. Consider these issues:
- What are the typical signs and symptoms of depression in your family member or friend?
- What behaviors or language do you observe when depression is worse?
- What behaviors or language do you observe when he or she is doing well?
- What circumstances trigger episodes of more severe depression?
- What activities are most helpful when depression worsens?
Worsening depression needs to be treated as soon as possible. Your loved one should work with his or her doctor or mental health professional to come up with a plan for what to do when signs and symptoms reach a certain point. As part of this plan, your loved one may need to:
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- Contact his or her doctor to see about adjusting or changing medications
- See a psychotherapist, such as a licensed counselor or psychologist
- Take self-care steps, such as being sure to eat healthy meals, get enough sleep and be physically active
See more In-depth
- Depressive disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR. 4th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2000. http://www.psychiatryonline.com. Accessed July 10, 2012.
- Helping a friend or family member with depression or bipolar disorder. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=about_publications_helping. Accessed July 11, 2012.
- Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml. Accessed July 10, 2012.
- Get help. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/GetHelp/Default.aspx. Accessed July 9, 2012.
- Men and depression. National Institutes of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/index.shtml. Accessed July 10, 2012.
- How family and friends can help. National Institutes of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/men-and-depression/how-family-and-friends-can-help.shtml. Accessed July 10, 2012.
- Miller L, et al. Religiosity and major depression in adults at high risk: A ten-year prospective study. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2012;169:89.
- When you fear someone may take their life. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=F2F25092-7E90-9BD4-C4658F1D2B5D19A0. Accessed March 22, 2012.
- Kennebeck S, et al. Evaluation and management of suicidal behavior in children and adolescents. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index. Accessed March 13, 2012.
- Warning signs of suicide. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=0519ec1a-d73a-8d90-7d2e9e2456182d66. Accessed April 30, 2012.
- McDowell AK, et al. Practical suicide-risk management for the busy primary care physician. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2011;8:792.
- Kung S (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 23, 2012.