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 symptoms of depression
Depression signs and symptoms vary from person to person. They can include:
- Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
- Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
- Changes in appetite — reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren't your responsibility
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Frequent or recurrent mention of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
- Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches
For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Other people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without knowing why. Children and teens may show depression by being irritable or cranky rather than sad.
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.
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 seeking help from 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 to discuss in an initial appointment with a doctor or mental health provider.
- Express your willingness to help by setting up appointments, going along to them 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. Observe your loved one. Learn how depression affects your family member or friend — and learn what to do when it gets worse.
Consider these issues:
- What are the typical signs and symptoms of depression in your relative 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. Encourage your loved one to work with his or her doctor or mental health provider 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:
Aug. 06, 2015
- Contact the 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 an appropriate amount of sleep and be physically active
See more In-depth
- Major depressive disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- What is major depression? U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/depression.asp. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- FYI: Understanding depression and effective treatment. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/understanding-depression.aspx. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- Helping someone with a mood disorder. Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=help_friends_family. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- Suicide warning signs. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://www.afsp.org/understanding-suicide/suicide-warning-signs. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- Help someone else. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/someone.aspx. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- How to help in an emotional crisis. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/emotional-crisis.aspx. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- Support a friend. National Council for Suicide Prevention. http://www.thencsp.org/#!SUPPORT%20A%20FRIEND/c8xp. Accessed July 9, 2015.
- Depression. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Overview. Accessed June 6, 2015.
- Miller L, et al. Religiosity and major depression in adults at high risk: A ten-year prospective study. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 2012;169:89.
- Rohren CH (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 13, 2015.