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

Updated March 20, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Watching someone close to you experience depression can be difficult. You might want to help them “feel better,” but depression is about more than that, and you can't force anyone to seek therapy or treatment. However, you can take steps that might make a difference and show them that they're not alone.

This guide explores ways that you can try to make a difference if you believe or know that someone you care about is experiencing depression. 

Step 1: Understand The Symptoms And Warning Signs Of Depression

Learn To Support Loved Ones Through Depression

Sadness and depression are two different things, but it can be hard to differentiate without professional training. And because everyone experiences the world with a unique perspective, you won't usually understand what someone is going through from the outside. 

But understanding the symptoms and warning signs of depression might be helpful. Educating yourself on what depression may look like when you are not the one experiencing symptoms can potentially help you support your loved one better. 

Symptoms Of Depression

People usually experience depression in their own ways, and the symptoms can be easier to spot in some than in others. But knowing the symptoms might give you a better idea of what someone is going through. Symptoms of depression may include:

  • Changes in sleeping patterns (e.g., difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much)

  • Changes in eating habits (e.g., decreased or increased appetite)

  • Feelings of sadness, helplessness, and, in some cases, emptiness or numbness

  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness

  • Slower movements, actions, and speech

  • Fatigue and lack of energy

  • Loss of desire to engage in activities previously enjoyed

  • Difficulty focusing and concentrating

  • Thinking about death or expressing the interest to die* 

*If you believe you or someone you love might be at risk of harming themselves, reach out to emergency services immediately. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (previously the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline) is open 24/7 and is available via text or phone call at 988.

Not everyone experiencing depression will exhibit all the symptoms, and you might not notice any of these symptoms from the outside. 

Depression Looks Different In Everyone

The symptoms listed above reference major depression, but there are different forms of depression that people in your life might be experiencing. For example: 

  • Dysthymia: A form of depression characterized by low-grade depressive symptoms that occur for two or more years

  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): A mild form of depression that often comes during colder months 

  • Bipolar disorder: A mental health condition that features depressive episodes in addition to manic episodes, during which the individual may show symptoms like high energy or positivity

Depression may also occur alongside other mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, psychotic episodes, or anxiety. This is known as comorbidity, and it can result in different symptoms. 

In addition, depression might be expressed differently among age groups and identities. For example, depression in children and adolescents may manifest as behaviors like complaining or physical aches and pains.

Step 2: Offer Support And Encouragement

Your relationship with the person experiencing depression might determine what you should do next. For example, if you're a parent or guardian looking to help your child or teen, you have more control and can find help via sources like TeenCounseling (for people aged 13 to 19). So, while depression may still be challenging to see your child experience, you can likely do more to help them.

If you're an adult helping an adult friend, family, or spouse, offering help might look different. While you can't make someone seek therapy, feel better, or change their life, you can likely provide them with love and support. And they might be craving this, even if it isn't apparent from the outside. 

Here are some examples of what you might be able to do.

Express Your Concern (And Offer Your Support)

The person experiencing depression might not realize you're concerned about them or want to support them until you express it. They also may not suspect they might be experiencing depression. 

Speaking with them and gently talking about what you've noticed could be helpful for some people. Instead of telling them they "have depression" (only a licensed professional can make this diagnosis), it's usually more helpful to say that you believe they might be experiencing symptoms of depression. 

If you don’t want to talk about what you've noticed, you can also tell the person that you're there for them and want them to be happy. In addition, you might add that they can ask you for help with anything they need during this time. Many people will appreciate someone taking the time to reach out and offer support.

Provide Resources

If someone is unaccustomed to experiencing depression, they may not know how to find support or what to do. While you might be able to offer support and comfort, other resources might be helpful as well. 

It may help to discuss your feelings about depression therapy and subtly suggest it or tell them where they can begin. For example, if you attend online therapy sessions, you could explain how your therapist has helped you and tell them how they can find a professional. You could also discuss how online therapy has made mental health care more accessible, which might be encouraging and reassuring. 

For example, BetterHelp is an online counseling platform that allows individuals to connect with certified counselors from the comfort of their homes. Telling them about BetterHelp or mentioning research that shows online therapy is effective for treating depression might help encourage them. 

If they're receptive to the idea, offering assistance in setting up appointments might also be helpful. Then, if they agree and ask you to help them start therapy and help them how to deal with depression, you can complete the steps with them beside you or be there for them while they sign up for treatment.

Step 3. Do What You Can To Improve Their Lives (With Their Permission)

Learn To Support Loved Ones Through Depression

Someone experiencing depression might find life more challenging, especially if their symptoms are new. And regardless of if they seek treatment, you can ask them for permission to do what you can to improve their life. 

Here are a few options you may want to consider: 

  • Spend time with them regularly or invite them to social activities.

  • Become their workout partner – something as simple as walking outside can boost people's moods. 

  • Offer to run errands or help with chores, such as grocery shopping or laundry.

  • Provide a safe place where they can express their feelings without judgment.

For someone experiencing symptoms of depression, small gestures like these may mean more than you'll know.


Helping someone close to you who you believe may be experiencing symptoms of depression might show your support and love. And while you cannot make anyone seek treatment, you can begin online therapy to learn more about how to help others in your life healthily. In doing so, you might see positive changes in your mental health and well-being that make it easier for you to be there for those you love. 

At BetterHelp, we'll connect you with a licensed professional based on your preferences and needs, usually within 48 hours. Then, you can schedule video, phone, or in-app messaging appointments on your time. In addition, you can use in-app messaging to reach out to your therapist whenever you need to, and they'll respond as soon as they can.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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