Depression In A Friend Or Family Member 2022

Giovanna Rosario

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

Depression is a mental illness condition that affects over 280 million people in the world[1]. When a friend or a family member starts acting distant, forgetful, and not talking as much, it might be good to reach out. They might not open up about mental health first. It might be good to learn how to help someone with depression.

If you or someone close to you are having thoughts of suicide or harming yourself in any way, call 988 to contact The 988 Suicide and Crisis line, for confidential emotional support. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

8 Ways To Help Someone With Depression

  1. Assist them in getting help
  2. Let them know they are not alone
  3. Support them through treatment
  4. Help them with tasks
  5. Make open plans
  6. Be patient
  7. Take care of yourself
  8. Take threats seriously

How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed?

The first step to helping a depressed friend or family member is education. Learn what depression is, how to support people with mental health, and what to do in an emotional crisis.

When friends or family are experiencing depression, they may not show it, so you need to be aware of the different ways depression can show itself. It can be as subtle as sleeping too much or as obvious as acting depressed for over two weeks.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)[2], these are other clinical depression symptoms to look out for:

  • Depressed moods like feeling sad, empty, or irritable.
  • Expressing aches and pains that are not related to a medical condition. They also may be more fatigued.
  • Might not be interested in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Eating more or less than usual, and experiencing changes in appetite and weight. 
  • Might express guilt, worthlessness, or hopelessness for the future. 

During depressive episodes, people might struggle during social and family interactions. They also may be having difficulty at work, school, or other important areas of day-to-day life. 

Trying times can also trigger depression, like sudden life changes (job loss, financial hardship, move), hormonal changes (pregnancy or postpartum), or abuse. 

We can also classify depression according to type:

  • Perinatal depression: occurs during pregnancy (prenatal) or after childbirth (postpartum).
  • Seasonal depression: may benefit from light therapy. 
  • Bipolar disorder: when depression alternates with episodes of mania.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD): also known as dysthymia, in which people have prolonged depressed mood. 

People suffering from mental health issues may benefit from support from friends, family, or peers. Having some type of support may help with recovery and the frequency and depth of symptoms. A study[3] determined that people with social support may experience less depression. 

Women who have family support[4] recover faster from depression. In a systematic review, parental support[5] was found protective against depression in children and adolescents. 

Contrary to children or teens, older adults depend more on spousal support. In a Chinese study[6] with older adults, they observed that family support mitigated depression symptoms. 

8 Ways To Help Someone With Depression

Assist Them In Getting Help

If they are scared or don’t know how to find support, help them find the resources. In a depressive state, they might not see things clearly as usual. Assist them in contacting local mental health resources if desired, to seek help, and receive diagnosis and treatment. 

Men, in particular, may have a hard time addressing their feelings or agreeing easily to psychotherapy. They might be open to working on physical symptoms with a primary care provider. Talk to them about finding help to feel better. 

Sometimes it might be just as simple as contacting their health insurance to determine coverage and providers. With remote providers, it also might be possible to receive therapy for depression online. 

Look for mental health services provided by video or via phone, if the person is interested. This might make the first interaction with a professional easier if they are experiencing low energy levels or motivation. 

Let Them Know They Are Not Alone

You can make yourself available to them to talk to or be there when they need someone. Sometimes a person with depression may push you away. It’s important to give them space, but be open to communicating. 

Some people with depression might benefit from participating in online support[7] groups. Sharing experiences with people undergoing similar symptoms might ease tension or embarrassment. In support groups, people share solutions to some problems, and it might be better to listen to somebody else with depression.  

Establish a safety plan. It should contain warning signs of a crisis, coping skills that have worked previously, and places and people that can be a distraction from suicidal thoughts. 

It should also include a list of people to call if suicidal and, finally, contact information for mental health providers and 24/7 services in a crisis. This plan is important to establish for suicide prevention and is not dependent on one person alone. 

Support Them Through Treatment

When a loved one is experiencing depression, they might need the motivation to continue treatment. 

They might continue to need assistance scheduling appointments and getting to therapy. If they are suffering from postpartum (postnatal) depression, you can assist them by going to a mental health visit with the mother and helping with the baby. Encourage them to participate in treatment. You can also help them set up their computers if they are doing online therapy

They might need to review how they felt after previous therapy sessions. Remind them to not stop medications suddenly. Medications that are working and stopped suddenly might be dangerous due to a spike in depression, the severity of which is unpredictable. Acknowledge side effects and advise them to discuss them with their medical provider. 

Encourage them to eat regularly and avoid drugs or alcohol, since blood sugar swings and drug interactions, respectively, may worsen symptoms. When symptoms improve, advise a balanced diet and include 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

Assist them in setting up a sleep schedule if it became altered. Changes in the circadian rhythm[8] are associated with the development of a Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), i.e., severe versions of any type of mental disorder, including depression. The right amount of sleep might be a good beginning for their treatment. 

Help Them with Tasks

Being depressed can make it difficult for people to do everyday tasks. Let them tell you what feels overwhelming at the moment. It might be something as simple as doing their dishes, doing laundry, paying bills, grocery shopping, or other household chores, or all these together. 

It might be best for them to establish priorities and leave other tasks for later. Another approach is to break down tasks and make them less overwhelming. Ask them what they need help with today and tackle them together. If it’s a new mother, you can do a household task for them. 

Keep in mind that this might be a source of embarrassment or anxiety for most people. Be careful with the words chosen that might hurt their feelings. Reassure them you are there to help.

Sometimes a depressed individual has trouble concentrating, suffers changes in appetite, or is forgetful. Create a calendar together to keep schedules for medication, tasks, and mealtimes. 

Make Open Plans 

Invite them to activities, but do not force them. Keep invitations open, so they feel it is OK if their mood does not allow them. Make plans together for activities they enjoy, either outside or at home. This might keep open their social group or increase their social support group.

Encourage your loved one, as much as they’re able, to participate in physical or outside activities. 

Be Patient

Depression does not resolve with treatment in one day or even one week. Depending on the type and severity of depression, it might take weeks or months. With treatment and professional help, your friend or family will get better. There is hope.

Patience is going to be an important part of the process. Especially if you need to help someone with anxiety or severe depression symptoms. They can often be unpleasant; don’t judge. They might not feel like talking, but just checking in with them might be enough support. Let them guide you on what they need. 

Recovery happens in their own time. Be open to listening to them talk about their feelings. Active listening[9] is incredibly helpful to a person dealing with a depressive mood or anxiety. It might help them cope and navigate their feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and let them know you understand, and it’s okay. 

Take Care of Yourself

Practice self-care. Providing care[10] or support to others might be emotionally taxing.  Eating well and being physically active is a start. Make time for yourself and your own needs. You can meditate, join a support group, keep up with your hobbies, or just chat with friends. 

If you are struggling with a mood disorder yourself, it’s important to continue receiving professional treatment. Take care of your own mental health. 

You should set boundaries to avoid getting overwhelmed. Remember that a depressed person is dysfunctional and can’t discern when they are out of line with you personally. Enabling them with unreasonable expectations makes you a part of their dysfunction. Create a safety plan. Include other friends and family members to distribute care for the person with depression. 

Take Threats Seriously

If a person expresses suicidal thoughts or suicidal intent, don’t dismiss it. Also, be on the lookout[11] for behavior or personality changes, like taking more risks, saying goodbye, writing a will, sleeping changes, interest in death, and an increase in drug or alcohol abuse. These could be suicide warning signs.

Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Line with them. Otherwise, if you or somebody close is in immediate danger, call 911. 

The Bottom Line

Depression is a common and serious mental health disorder that can affect the lives of people who suffer from it. When loved ones are struggling with symptoms of depression, they might feel hopelessness, pain, and overwhelmed. 

You might just be that supportive person to encourage them to seek professional assistance and stick to the prescribed therapy and/or medication. Such a caregiver is an important asset to prevent a crisis or suicide. 

Friends and family caring for loved ones with depression play an important role in recovery. They also may help maintain a sense of normalcy for them. Taking care of people with a mental illness might be taxing, so the caregiver needs to take of themselves too.


+ 11 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. World (2021). Depression. [online] Who.int. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2022). Depression. [online] Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression.
  3. Werner-Seidler, A., Afzali, M.H., Chapman, C., Sunderland, M. and Slade, T. (2017). The relationship between social support networks and depression in the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, [online] 52(12), pp.1463–1473. doi:10.1007/s00127-017-1440-7.
  4. Kamen, C., Cosgrove, V., McKellar, J., Cronkite, R. and Moos, R. (2011). Family support and depressive symptoms: a 23-year follow-up. Journal of Clinical Psychology, [online] 67(3), pp.215–223. doi:10.1002/jclp.20765.
  5. Gariépy, G., Honkaniemi, H. and Quesnel-Vallée, A. (2016). Social support and protection from depression: systematic review of current findings in Western countries. British Journal of Psychiatry, [online] 209(4), pp.284–293. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.115.169094.
  6. Zhang, B. and Li, J. (2011). Gender and marital status differences in depressive symptoms among elderly adults: The roles of family support and friend support. Aging & Mental Health, [online] 15(7), pp.844–854. doi:10.1080/13607863.2011.569481.
  7. Melling, B. and Houguet-Pincham, T. (2011). Online peer support for individuals with depression: A summary of current research and future considerations. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, [online] 34(3), pp.252–254. doi:10.2975/34.3.2011.252.254.
  8. Pandi-Perumal, S.R., Monti, J.M., Burman, D., Karthikeyan, R., BaHammam, A.S., Spence, D.W., Brown, G.M. and Narashimhan, M. (2020). Clarifying the role of sleep in depression: A narrative review. Psychiatry Research, [online] 291, p.113239. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113239.
  9. United States Institute of Peace. (2021). What is Active Listening? [online] Available at: https://www.usip.org/public-education-new/what-active-listening.
  10. https://www.facebook.com/NIHAging (2017). Taking Care of Yourself: Tips for Caregivers. [online] National Institute on Aging. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/taking-care-yourself-tips-caregivers.
  11. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). (2022). Warning Signs of Suicide. [online] Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/warning-signs-of-suicide.
Giovanna Rosario

Written by:

Giovanna Rosario, RD

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

She's currently working as a Registered Dietitian who enjoys promoting healthy lifestyles to be able to thrive in old age. She has worked dietitian-nutritionist in different settings helping adults manage chronic disease through dietary approaches, achieve healthful weight, and replenish nutrient deficiencies. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetic Sciences, alongside a Master’s degree in Creative Writing.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

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