Depression affects 1 in 12 adults in the U.S. alone, but despite its prevalence, it can sometimes be hard to know the best ways to approach and provide support for those closest to you. Even…
Depression affects 1 in 12 adults in the U.S. alone, but despite its prevalence, it can sometimes be hard to know the best ways to approach and provide support for those closest to you. Even with understanding family or friend groups, people with depression often isolate themselves and find difficulty connecting with others.
As someone trying to support a person with depression, it’s easy to get discouraged or resort to benign neglect, thinking, “I’m not going to say anything because someone else will.” I’ve found the most effective way to develop a support system is to open the channels of communication and pave the way for healthy discourse.
The first way to approach conversation is to remember to reach out to the individual — be there to support him or her, but also understand what’s going on with them. When you say to a person with depression, “what are you doing, get yourself up” when they’re having trouble completing tasks or are feeling overwhelmed, you can actually be forgetting that these are symptoms of the disorder and often beyond their control. By remembering to make the conversation less about productivity and more about asking how you can help, you can better support your friends or loved ones with depression.
Another good start to a productive conversation is to ask someone with depression if they’ve seen their doctor recently, if they have changes in energy or if they’re taking care of themselves. With antidepressant medication, patients don’t start to feel better instantly — the effects are gradual. There are also varying degrees of side effects like weight gain and agitation. Because of this, my colleagues and I at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have seen many patients take their medication only for a week or two before stopping. A good framework for this conversation is to not lead with a negative statement like “Are you taking your medicine? I’ve noticed you’ve gained weight.” Instead, encourage the patient to keep taking his or her medication. Remind them that the side effects are usually temporary and that they’ll start to feel better soon.
Though this conversation might make you worried about controlling or parenting your depressed friends or loved ones, by keeping the individual’s best interests at heart you can soften your advice without seeming pushy. Consider saying something like: “I think you’re depressed; would you be willing to talk to someone else and get a professional opinion on this? I’m not asking you to give up anything — I just want you to feel better.” This suggests your primary concern isn’t changing this person’s behavior, but supporting his or her well-being.
It’s also good to note that elderly people or people going through major life transitions are often prone to depressive episodes. By keeping in mind the circumstances of someone’s life through open dialogue, it’s easier to respond to their needs and understand that their actions may be the result of an underlying issue. When you communicate with your friends or loved ones, you can begin a conversation that helps to connect the individual with much needed support.
Generally, a good rule of thumb is to offer your time to participate in someone’s daily life. You can attend doctor’s appointments, paint, read or exercise together. Joining someone with depression in the activities he or she wants to do will demonstrate your willingness to be part of their lives and long-term care. In fact, it’s the combination of medication, therapy and support that will have the greatest impact on behavior. So, even if a loved one or friend is exhibiting symptoms of depression, your willingness to have persistent, open communication will go a long way in giving them the support they need.
If you or a loved one need immediate help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which is available 24 hours day at: 1-800-273-8255.