What Depression Looks Like: How To Help Someone You Know Cope

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

In general, depression involves persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities a person once found enjoyable. Treatments typically include a combination of therapy and medication. If a loved one has depression, you may feel unsure about how to support them. It can be helpful to learn about depression, listen to them without judgment, and maintain communication with patience and positivity. Other effective strategies can include connecting them with mental health resources, encouraging them to attend therapy sessions, helping them with daily tasks, and continuing to invite them to social activities. You might suggest online therapy to them as a helpful resource, or if you’re experiencing mental health concerns yourself, you could consider trying it as well.

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What is depression?

When your feelings of sadness aren’t temporary and don’t fade with time, you may be living with a mood disorder such as depression. If your symptoms persist for at least two weeks and significantly impair your ability to function in one or more areas of your life, consider speaking to your physician or mental healthcare provider about getting an assessment for a depressive disorder. 

Depression is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Fortunately, it is also treatable. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.” — American Psychiatric Association.

Recognizing depression signs and symptoms

Symptoms during depressive episodes often occur throughout most of the day, nearly every day. For most people experiencing depression symptoms, they are severe enough to cause functional impairment, affecting their work, school, social life, or relationships. These symptoms can include the following:

  • Intense feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Periods of anger, irritability, or frustration, often over insignificant issues
  • Loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed, also called anhedonia
  • Changes in your sleep patterns, either sleeping too much or not enough
  • Persistent fatigue to the point that even small tasks require additional effort
  • Changes in appetite and weight loss or gain
  • Restlessness or anxiety
  • Decreased speed in thought, speech, and movement
  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or fixating on past failures
  • Difficulty concentrating, thinking, remembering, and making decisions
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation (Note: This requires immediate treatment.)
  • Unexplained physical pain without an apparent cause, such as headaches or back pain

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

Exploring mood disorders

According to the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine, mood disorders are generally a class of mental health conditions that medical professionals use to describe mental illnesses, such as depression or bipolar disorder, that can affect your mood, thought patterns, functional ability, relationships, and behaviors.  

Major depressive disorder

Depression can be a serious mental health condition that often affects nearly every part of your life. Rather than a weakness or character flaw, major depressive disorder can be a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition likely caused by a combination of brain chemistry abnormalities and environmental factors. 

Bipolar disorder

Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder typically causes drastic shifts in mood, concentration, energy, and functional ability. This mental health condition is normally characterized by periods of mania involving excessive energy and exacerbated symptoms, cyclically alternating with more extended periods of depression and sadness. 

Seasonal affective disorder

When symptoms of depression are seen primarily at the beginning and end of seasonal changes, seasonal affective disorder may be at play. Patterns typically coincide with either the summer or winter season changes. 

Persistent depressive disorder

A diagnosis of persistent depressive disorder generally refers to chronic, low-level depression. While symptoms may not be as intense as major depressive disorder, they often persist longer. This mental health condition generally requires at least two years of symptoms for qualification. 

Postpartum depression disorder

Some parents and guardians experience a drastic shift in their emotional state after welcoming a child to their home. Fathers and even adoptive or foster parents can also experience postpartum depression

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Treatments for depression

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, treatments for depression usually include medication, psychotherapy (talk therapy), or a combination of both. If the desired results are not achieved, brain stimulation therapies may be an option to help reduce symptoms. Your mental healthcare provider should tailor your treatment plan to your individual needs and situation. 

How to help a loved one with depression

One of the things depression tends to do is isolate a person from their support network, often by convincing them that they are a burden to their loved ones. If you see signs of depression in someone you care for, you might try some of the following strategies to show your support. 

Educate yourself about the disorder

Make an effort to educate yourself about depression and how it may affect your loved one. Knowing how the symptoms may present and influence their behavior, thoughts, and emotions can make it easier to decide how to help them best. 

Listen without judgment

When you sit down with your loved one to talk about their depression, it can be best to actively listen to their concerns without expressing any judgment. Let them talk about what’s bothering them and how they feel, then talk through their emotions, possibly helping to point out where their depression may be altering their perspective of the situation. Try to avoid being pushy and asking too many questions. Express your concern and allow them to talk about what they are comfortable discussing. 

Maintain patience, communication, and positivity

Working through depression is not usually a fast process. Let your loved one know you will be there to help them through it with patience, positivity, and support. Their symptoms may come in waves, presenting challenges when they least expect them. There is generally no cure for depression (although there are treatment options), so it can be helpful to meet their frustration with understanding and practical communication when they’re having a bad day due to symptoms. 

Connect them with mental health resources

Some people with depression don’t realize they have a problem or may not know where to seek help. Taking the first step to finding treatment can often be an insurmountable task for someone in the midst of intense depression symptoms. You might offer to help connect your loved one with mental health resources, find a therapist, and attend sessions if that is the type of support they need. 

Encourage therapy and continue supporting them

Therapy can be an excellent tool to help someone identify negative thought patterns and behaviors, so they can work toward shifting them to healthier habits. You might encourage your loved one to seek therapy as part of their depression treatment and maintain that support through the rough patches. Therapy often leaves the patient feeling raw and exposed after discussing their intimate details and personal pain. 

Offer to help with daily tasks 

Depression can interfere with your loved one’s ability to function in many areas of their lives. If they can’t muster the energy to get up and clean, you can offer to help. If they aren’t up to cooking a nutritious meal, try swinging by with some ingredients and an uplifting visit. Helping them complete small tasks can give them something positive to focus on, which can offer some perspective and help them work through depression symptoms. 

Continue inviting them to activities

Depression often affects a person’s ability to take enjoyment from hobbies, activities, and social contact. Your loved one may find it challenging to reach out or follow through with plans for outings. They may feel guilty over canceling and assume they won’t be welcome in the future. Continue to invite them to activities, even if you think they may say no. Express your understanding if they can’t come, but make it clear that they are invited, and that you would be happy to see them. 

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How therapy can help you cope with depression

Whether you prefer in-person or online sessions, therapy can be a valuable tool to address depression symptoms and help you improve your mental health.

Working with a licensed therapist online through a virtual therapy platform such as BetterHelp can help you find healthy ways to cope with your depression symptoms and build communication skills to express your feelings and needs effectively. Online therapy tends to be less expensive and involves shorter wait times than treatments in the traditional setting. With flexible appointment formats, it can be simple to fit therapy into your busy schedule.

According to a recent study, online psychotherapy treatments can be as effective as therapy in the traditional clinical setting for addressing depression symptoms. Medical professionals typically agree that the effectiveness of treatment usually increases with the number of sessions attended, and many patients said the convenience of online therapy helped them make it to more appointments. Many also said the added physical distance made talking about sensitive topics with their therapist easier. 

Takeaway

Depression can significantly impact your daily life, relationships, thoughts, and behaviors. Multiple treatment avenues may be available to help you manage the symptoms and their effects. Although it can be challenging to know the best ways to support a loved one who is living with depression, there are many strategies that may be helpful. For example, you might choose to help your loved one with daily tasks like cooking and cleaning, listen to them without judgment, and connect them with mental health resources. One such resource may be online therapy, which can be a valuable tool for anyone who would like to improve their mental health.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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