How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed: 3 Steps To Make A Difference

Updated July 02, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers

It can be difficult to watch someone you care about deal with depression. While we can take action on our thoughts and feelings, we can’t always make someone else seek out treatment, or take the necessary steps to move along their path to healing. That said, our friends and family are never alone! If you are looking to learn how to help someone who is depressed, there are plenty of ways to be there for people who matter most to us.

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To help you understand what you can do, here are three steps that you can take to make a difference when you believe that someone close to you is dealing with a mental health disorder like depression.

Step 1. Understand The Symptoms And Warning Signs Of Depression

There’s a big difference between a bout of sadness and depression. However, it can be hard to differentiate the two and understand what someone is going through if we do not know exactly what depression looks like. The first step to take towards helping someone who is depressed is taking time to educate yourself further on what depression may look like when we are not the one experiencing symptoms.

What Are The Symptoms Of Depression?

The symptoms of depression, while not always easy to spot in some people, can give us a better idea of what someone may be going through. Depression symptoms include:

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Decreased appetite or overeating
  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness (in some, feeling empty or numb)
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
  • Slower movements, actions, and speech
  • Lack of energy and fatigue
  • No desire to engage in activities previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating
  • Thinking about death or expressing the interest to die (if you believe that someone you love may be at risk of harming themselves, reach out to emergency services to get them the help that they need immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.)

Not everyone who has depression will exhibit all of the symptoms, which is very important to remember as it brings us to our next major point in the process.

Does Depression Look The Same In Everyone?

Depressed people will not always exhibit the same symptoms as other people who are going through some form of depression. Why? Well, this can happen for several reasons.

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  1. Your Loved One May Be Dealing With A Different Form Of Depression: The symptoms provided above cover major depression, but depressed people in your life can be dealing with other forms of depression as well. For example, dysthymia (a form of depression characterized by low-grade depressive symptoms that occur for two or more years), seasonal affective disorder (a mild form of depression that comes during winter months and leaves once spring comes), and bipolar disorder (a mental illness that features both depressive episodes as well as manic episodes where an individual may show high energy and positivity) are all forms of depression that your loved one may be dealing with. This means that it is important to note the way they are acting, see if their symptoms or actions match up with any known depressive disorders, and then approach them about the topic if you believe that they may be in need of help.
  2. A Depressed Person Can Have Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders: When depression is experienced with eating disorders, psychotic episodes, or other mental health disorders, it may not be displayed the same way as if it were experienced on its own. Some people may be hiding their other mental health disorders and may have become skilled at masking symptoms of depression in the process. Keep this in mind when you are looking at a depressed person’s behavior.
  3. Depression May Be Expressed Differently In Certain Age Groups And Genders: Different genders and age groups can experience depression differently. For example, depression in children and adolescents may manifest as troublesome behaviors and physical pains. Meanwhile, men may become more aggressive when they are dealing with depression, and women may become more withdrawn and somber. Keep this in mind when you have a potentially depressed person in mind. While the above symptoms are great guidelines, they may not be completely reflective of someone’s personal experience.

Depression is not always as clear as it is depicted in the media, which means that it is important for you to keep a close eye on potential warning signs and keep in mind the above points!

Can Someone Be Depressed Without All Of The Symptoms?

As was stated above, the symptoms of depression won’t necessarily all be present within a depressed person. Depending on the type of depression they are dealing with, whether it is being experienced with other mental health disorders like eating disorders or psychotic episodes, and how they cope with the symptoms and display them to the world, depression may be easy to spot, or it may be difficult (even for the person who is going through the depressive episode).

However, if you do believe that someone in your life is depressed, there are things that you can do to help them deal with their depression and recover from their symptoms.

Step 2. Offer Support And Encouragement

The relationship that you have with the depressed person in question will greatly impact what you should do next. For example, if the depressed person in your life is a child or teen, you have a larger amount of control that you can exercise to handle the situation. You, as a parent or guardian, can seek out help with them and provide them with the resources necessary to help them thrive. While depression can still be difficult to deal with when your child is struggling with it, you are in a better position to do more to help them.

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If you are a friend or family member of a depressed adult, on the other hand, the choice to seek out help is entirely up to them. Some people may believe that this leaves them without options. However, that is most certainly not true. While you can’t make a loved one get help, you can guide them towards it and provide them with the love and support that they may be desperately craving at the moment. Some great places to start include:

  • Expressing Your Concern (and Offering Your Support): The depressed person that you are worried about will not know that you are concerned about them until you express that concern. In fact, if they have not been told that they may have depression, they may not know it themselves. Set aside some time to speak with them and let them know what you have noticed over the time that you have seen these symptoms. Let them know that you are there for them and that you want them to be happy and healthy. They will appreciate someone taking the time to reach out and offer their support.
  • Providing Them With Valuable Resources: If they are someone who does not commonly have depression, they may not know where to turn for support. While you can be a source of comfort during these trying times, they will need the help of a mental health professional who can diagnose them and provide them with the treatment that they need. For example, guiding them towards therapists and counselors in their area and helping them set up appointments or taking them there. If they are a bit nervous, you may want to recommend online alternatives. For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that allows individuals to connect with certified counselors from the comfort of their own home. If your friend or a family member has a hectic schedule, limited resources near them, or simply would feel better doing counseling online, online counseling platforms can be an effective alternative.
  • Making Sure That They Know You Are There For Them: A depressed person needs not only the support of a therapist but the support of their friends and family as well. Make sure that your friend or family member knows that you are there for them during this difficult time and that you are willing to help them out with anything that they may need. Knowing this can help them feel a bit more loved and confident as they navigate their depressive symptoms.

Step 3. Do What You Can to Improve Their Lives In The Meantime

A depressed person may need help adjusting to life as it was before they started a depressive episode. While they are going through treatment, you can act as that anchor that helps them readjust to the lives that they once led, and provide them with the help and support that they need as they make that adjustment. How? Here are a few ways you can improve their lives in the meantime.

  1. Make an effort to go out with them regularly or to invite them to group activities. Doing things with other people can have a positive impact on their mental health.
  2. Become their workout partner. Although people with depression may not want to get up or exercise, doing something as simple as walking outside can boost their mood and help them feel better. You can also encourage them to improve their diet and make other lifestyle changes that will help them battle the symptoms of depression.
  3. Act as a safe place where they can express their feelings and provide them with positive support when they do. Let them know that their negative feelings are often a symptom of their depression and that they are a loved, valuable individual.
  4. Help to reduce stress in their lives where possible. For example, if the depressed person is having difficulty in their lives, take some time to help them set goals, cut stress, and figure out how they can make a plan to help them navigate their depression easier. If they have low energy, maybe you can help them do a chore or two that they are unable to do at the moment. For a depressed person, these small gestures and acts of support can mean the world.
  5. Although this last tip isn’t necessarily something you would do with your friend or family member, you must be setting a good example for them by staying healthy and taking care of yourself. This can serve two purposes. The first is that your friend or family member may see how you are behaving and become inspired by it. The second is that it helps you recharge so that you can continue acting as a supportive person for them. If you run out of energy, you can’t properly give someone else the attention or support that you want to.

When someone close to you is dealing with depression, it can be difficult to watch. However, there are certain steps you may take to provide support. If you are looking to learn more about how to help someone who is depressed, contact a licensed counselor today.


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