5 Ways to Support Someone Who's Depressed

We’ve all been affected by depression in one way or another. Even if you haven’t experienced depression yourself, you’ve witnessed a loved one go through it, which is often just as difficult. You may find yourself in a situation where you want to help but you’re not sure what to say or do. I hope this list serves as a helpful guide. Here is a list of 5 do’s and don’ts when someone you love is depressed:

 
 

1 | Do check up on them

Depression often leads to isolation. Don’t take it personally if your loved one doesn’t want to go out with you on a Friday night. Chances are, they just don’t have the energy! Offer to bring over their favorite food and have a Netflix night. Socializing, even in small doses, can really help someone get out of a depressive state. If they really don’t want to socialize, offer to talk on the phone or FaceTime. Maybe they just need to vent.

2 | Don’t forget to take care of yourself

As an empath, I sometimes find myself emotionally drained after talking to a depressed friend for hours. It can be easy to absorb their energy and become depressed yourself. Now you’ve got 2 depressed people! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take care of a loved one, but you can’t neglect your own needs. That means getting enough sleep, eating well, focusing on school or work…the basic things. It also means knowing when to take a break and have some alone time. It can be hard to walk away from a depressed loved one but just reassure them that you’ll be back soon.

3 | Do give them time

Everybody heals at their own pace. Maybe you’ve been through a depressive episode that lasted 3 days but your loved one has been depressed for 3 weeks, or vice versa. It’s important to be patient when a loved one is depressed. Nobody would choose to be depressed for a long period of time, but sometimes that’s just the way it works out. Remind your loved one that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

4 | Don’t downplay their pain

If you saw someone with a physical injury, you probably wouldn’t doubt that they’re in pain. So why do we doubt the pain of depressed people? All throughout history, and all over the world, physical illnesses have been considered more serious than mental illnesses. However, if you asked someone with a mental illness “Is it painful?”, they would probably answer yes. Mental illness is simply painful in a different way. So when talking to a loved one with depression, avoid statements that downplay or minimize their pain. Just a few examples to avoid: “It’s all in your head!” “You have nothing to be sad about!” “Happiness is a choice!” Instead, you can say things like “Stay strong” and “I’m here for you.”

5 | Do ask them what they need

We all have different wants and needs. We all have things that help us feel better. One of the kindest things you can ask a depressed loved one is “What can I do to help?” They might say “Could you throw my clothes in the washer?” or “Would you mind washing my dishes?” Simple tasks like laundry or dishes can seem daunting when someone is in a state of depression. They might have very low energy and feel more depressed every time they look at that pile of clothes or dirty dishes in the sink. Helping out with these simple tasks will make them feel loved and less stressed. And who knows? Maybe all they need is a cup of tea.

I hope these do's and don'ts help you in your interactions with a loved one who lives with depression. They are lucky to have you in their life! Now I'd love to hear from you! What strategies have helped in supporting a depressed friend, partner or family member? What totally backfired? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below. Thanks for reading and be well!


about the author

Hi, I'm Lucy! A psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Upon graduation, I plan to pursue child and adolescent therapy. When I'm not chugging coffee and studying, I love to sing, write music, bake, watch reality TV, and hang out with my dog.

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10 Tips for Communicating with a Spouse

One of the most common goals for treatment that I hear from couples counseling clients is that they would like to communicate better. By the time couples come in for therapy, they typically know that their communication patterns are not serving them anymore and that they need to learn new skills. That’s why I’ve compiled this list of strategies for improving your communication with your partner:

 
 

1 | Use “I” statements

When communicating with your partner, it’s essential that you speak from your own experience and avoid blaming your partner for your feelings. This has two benefits, 1) you allow yourself to be seen and heard and 2) you avoid putting your partner on the defensive. Utilizing “I” statements is probably the most commonly taught technique in couples counseling.

2 | Avoid over-generalizations

Making statements such as “you always” or “you never” is not only unhelpful, but it’s also simply untrue. It’s impossible for someone to always or never do something, so let’s keep the over-generalizations out of the conversations. For a more helpful and healing interaction, express the way it makes you feel when your partner behaves in a certain way.

3 | Listen fully

This means that you need to pay close attention to what your partner is saying, as opposed to planning your response. I find that when I feel revved up and really want to say something, I notice my body begin to tense up and wanting to interject. In these moments, slowing down and focusing on my breath allows me to stay present to what my partner is saying.

4 | Face your issues

When people don’t address and resolve the things that bother them with their partner, they may think they are just “letting it go,” but typically these annoyances and resentments build up over time resulting in one of two scenarios, 1) the frustration can be insidiously expressed as passive aggressive behavior or 2) the anger can build up over time causing the individual to lash out at their partner. Do these sound familiar? As uncomfortable as it may be to do at the time, you and your partner are both better off dealing with issues head on instead of putting them on the back burner.

5 | Practice honesty

This may seem obvious, but I don’t think it can be understated that trust is the foundation of an intimate relationship and deception (even when it seems innocuous) slowly erodes at that foundation. Even if you’re tempted to cover up the truth about something to avoid discomfort or conflict, remind yourself that your relationship will benefit more from telling the truth and dealing with the consequences. It will ultimately bring you closer.

6 | Be vulnerable

In any relationship conflict, it takes two to tango. Even if one person is 99% at fault for something, the other partner is 1% accountable. So, if you’re angry or upset with your partner about an issue, take responsibility for your part in it. This will set the tone for the conversation and encourage your partner to open up with you about their part in the conflict. If being vulnerable is challenging for you, I recommend watching the above TED talk about the power of vulnerability. It's one of my favorites.

7 | Know “The Four Horsemen”

John Gottman, the psychologist famous for his research on relationships, writes about the “Four Horsemen” of relationships which are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. In order to have successful communication and a long-lasting relationship, couples must avoid these classic traits that can doom relationships. Here is a short summary of Gottman’s Four Horsemen:

  • Criticism – Offering your partner helpful feedback on ways they can improve within the relationship can be a healthy habit, but once your criticism crosses the line into a pervasive pattern of diminishing your partner’s sense of self, this becomes unhealthy.
  • Contempt – This characteristic is often expressed as name-calling, mimicking, ridicule and using body language such as eye-rolling that denigrates the other person. These behaviors have a serious negative effect on relationships and need to be avoided.
  • Defensiveness – It’s challenging not to get defensive when your partner addresses an issue with you, but it’s critical to take feedback in stride. Defensiveness turns what could otherwise be a productive discussion and turns it into an argument immediately.
  • Stonewalling – The term refers to when a partner becomes overwhelmed with the conflict with their partner and decides to completely withdraw from the interaction. This behavior can be incredibly frustrating and invalidating for the other partner.

8 | Speak directly

You may wish that your partner knew what you wanted and needed at every moment, but the truth is, they don’t! Therefore, you need to assert your needs often and clearly, to help your partner out. This process may be rocky at first (it can take a while for people to get used to assertiveness!) but if you can master direct communication with your partner, the rest of your relationship will flow much more smoothly.

9 | Stay calm

When people get triggered in a conflict with their partner, they can often raise their voice and say things that they don’t mean. To combat this, stay connected with your internal experience during a discussion with your partner. If you notice physiological symptoms of stress (like sweating, increased heart rate, etc.) slow the conversation down, take a few deep breaths, and if you need to, tell your partner you need to take a break in the other room for a minute before returning to the conversation. This mindfulness will help prevent unnecessary outbursts.

10 | Table discussions

This may seem contradictory to tip number 4 (Face Your Issues), but it actually complements it. Sometimes it is simply not a good time to discuss a particular topic. If you’re on your way to an important work presentation and need to be on your A-game, you probably don’t want to bring up that huge issue with your spouse on the car ride to work. Instead, mention to your partner that you’d like to discuss it when you get home. This way, you’re not avoiding the issue, but finding the right place and time to address it.

I hope this list is helpful to you and your partner in optimizing your relationship. I know these strategies have helped me immensely in my own relationship. Now I’d like to hear from you! What works for you in communication with your spouse? What seems to always backfire? Do you have any questions about how to employ these tips? Please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Thank you and be well.


about the author

Hi! I'm Natalie. And I'm passionate about helping people create healthy relationships in their lives. Through couples counseling in Pasadena and here on the blog, it's my mission to help foster stronger connections, healthy communication and life-long love.

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