Supporting a Friend

Updated January 21, 2021

Having a spouse, relative, or friend who is living with depression can cause strain or tension in the relationship. Just knowing how to help someone struggling with mental health issues can be challenging.

While you can’t “fix” someone’s mental illness, there are ways to help them navigate it.

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5 Ways to Help Someone With Depression

  • 1. Learn about depression.  Depression is common and affects one in 10 women and one in 20 men at any point in time. Learning how to help someone with depression starts with educating yourself about the disorder. Taking steps to learn about depression can help you better understand why your loved one is struggling. Consider reading more about depression on the National Institute of Mental Health website. You might also consider attending support groups for friends or family members of those with depression, where you can connect with others in similar situations. It can help you gain a better understanding of depression and its symptoms and may also help you become more empathetic and compassionate.
  • 2. Listen.  Depression can be isolating and cause a wide range of negative emotions like anger, guilt, shame, and sadness. Sometimes, helping someone with depression simply means being there to listen. Offer a safe space for your loved one to vent and talk, free from judgment or criticism. Initiate the conversation by reminding them that they are not their disease, and that negative thoughts, emotions, or actions they experience are symptoms of their mental illness — not indicative of who they truly are. If they aren’t interested in talking, don’t push it. Simply let them know that you will be there if and when they need you.
  • 3. Offer assistance.  When you’re depressed, everyday tasks like washing dishes or walking the dog can feel overwhelming or impossible. Offer to help with daily chores around the house and continue asking how you can help. Encourage exercise, good nutritional habits, and staying engaged with others as much as they can.

  • 4. Encourage them to seek help.  Treatment for depression is effective but, in the throes of depression, it can be hard for someone to find help on their own. They may struggle with denial or guilt, or even believe there is no hope for feeling better. Support your loved one by encouraging them to seek help — whether it’s a phone call to their doctor or a visit with a therapist. If that step is overwhelming, make it easier by doing research to narrow down the options. Offer your support when they make the decision to reach out for help.
  • 5. Take care of yourself.  Depression affects not only the one who is depressed, but also those close to them. As you learn how to help someone with depression, don’t forget about your own self-care. Take the time to relax and recharge when you need it — and don’t forget to make your own mental and physical health a priority.

What NOT to Do When Your Loved One Has Depression

Just as there are ways to help someone with depression, there are also things you should avoid doing or saying when a loved one is suffering from a mental illness. Here are a few:

  1. Don’t lose patience. While living or coexisting with a loved one who has depression can feel like “walking on eggshells” at times, it’s important not to become impatient. Understand that when depression hits, it may cause a person to react negatively to situations in which they would normally remain neutral or calm. Be patient and give them time to cope and heal. If the person has started taking medicine for depression, encourage them to continue since it can take a month or longer for an antidepressant to become effective.
  2. Don’t ignore or invalidate their needs. It can be a difficult step for a depressed person to ask for help. When they do, graciously provide the needed support. Never say “get over it” or suggest that others may have it worse. Chances are, they already feel confused or guilty for having negative thoughts or emotions, and don’t need reminders. If your loved one chooses to open up to you, don’t minimize their feelings with “tough love” or judgment — just be there to listen and remind them that their emotions are valid.
  3. Don’t accuse or blame them. No one wants to feel depressed, so never accuse a depressed person of seeking attention or causing their own suffering. Regardless of their actions, know that the illness is to blame. And if you begin to feel overwhelmed, don’t accuse them of “dragging you down” or causing a decline in your own mental health. Seek the help you need and avoid causing your loved one to feel ashamed or humiliated.

If someone you know is suffering, you can support and connect them with resources such as depression or crisis hotlines, where they can talk to professionals 24 hours a day. If you sense that their depression is worsening or becoming severe, make sure to educate yourself on suicide awareness and prevention.

To learn more about depression and available mental health resources, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.