How to Help Someone with Severe Depression
Depression is a serious mental illness that can be debilitating for the individual suffering from it. It causes sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, anxiety, or anger. Depression also impacts someone’s ability to sleep or concentrate, leading to other physical health problems like chronic pain or fatigue.
It is not easy to live with someone who has depression, but there are ways you can help your loved ones.
In this article, you will learn how to help someone with severe depression.
How to Help Someone with Severe Depression
The National Institute of Mental Health reports in 2022, there were 21 million American adults with at least one major depressive episode. Among those, females had a higher prevalence than males. This number doesn’t include children and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17, which reached 4.1 million in 2020.
Severe depression is a common disorder worldwide. If you have this condition, you understand its negative impact on your professional, personal, and social life. If you don’t have it but know someone who does, understanding severe depression is still necessary.
Here’s how to help someone with severe depression.
Gain a Better Understanding Of Severe Depression
The more you know about severe depression, the more you can relate to your friend, coworker, or loved one when they discuss their symptoms.
Major depressive disorder is defined by specific criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition. To be diagnosed, five of the nine criteria must be met:
- Depressed mood that is noticeable to others.
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Weight loss or weight gain that is unintentional.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Psychomotor changes that are noticeable by others.
- Fatigue, low energy, feeling tired often.
- Sense of worthlessness or guilt.
- Trouble concentrating or staying focused.
- Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Severe depression is a brain disorder caused by factors beyond your loved one’s control. Depression is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Genetics plays a significant role in who gets depression and who doesn’t. Other factors include living environment, past traumatic experiences, drug and alcohol misuse, and underlying medical conditions.
Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Depression
Severe depression is a disease like diabetes, cancer, thyroid disease, and more. The stigma that was once attached to it is fading, and society recognizes the impact of severe depression and the need for proper treatment. For these reasons, don’t be afraid to discuss severe depression with your friend or loved one.
Have conversations about depression symptoms and depression treatment programs and listen to them when they describe how it affects their lives. Listening and sympathizing is supportive action. Acknowledging they have a problem and that you care about them anyway will go a long way.
Severe depression symptoms can make it hard for someone to care for themselves. Somedays, they don’t want to get out of bed, much less participate in self-care activities. However, doing things to take care of themselves is crucial in coping with severe depression.
Self-care includes being mindful of the body’s needs and meeting those needs, visiting healthcare professionals, joining support groups, and participating in holistic therapies like equine, art, music, and massage therapy.
Self-care also means knowing physical and mental limits and avoiding exceeding those limits. You can help your friend with severe depression by assisting them in noticing when they feel overextended, which will likely be when their depressive symptoms worsen.
Help When You Can
There may be days when your friend or loved one with severe depression cannot function. They may not have the energy or the motivation to complete ordinary tasks around their home. You can step in and help them in various ways, like grocery shopping, cooking, or running errands. Doing this too often may lead to enabling behaviors, which do not help your loved one.
If your loved one is trying to take care of their mental health, helping them with tasks is not enabling. But if they are not doing anything to help themselves and relying on your help, you could be causing more damage.
Sit down together and make a list of tasks with which your friend struggles to accomplish each week. If you can help, create a short-term plan to help, setting an end date in the beginning.
Connect Them with Resources
While you may be a great friend or family member of someone with severe depression, you cannot be their only resource. You can help them by providing a list of local and virtual resources they can reach out to for help on good and bad days.
National hotlines, local therapists, online and local support groups, and reading materials are a few resources to benefit someone with severe depression.
Be Prepared for a Crisis
There may be a time when your friend calls you and is distraught. They may even be suicidal. It’s essential you know what to do to help save their life. First, let them know how much you care about them. Use caring, kind language and try to empathize with them. Never discount their emotions or make them feel you don’t care or don’t believe them. Ask if you can visit them.
Ask questions to find out if they have a plan and the means to carry out their plan. Yes, to either of these means you must seek immediate help. If they have a crisis plan with a therapist, activate it. If not, call 911 for emergency services. Be by their side as they get help through this crisis.
Take Care of Yourself
Encouraging your friend with severe depression to take care of themselves is also something you should do. If you are not healthy physically and mentally, you can’t be there fully for your loved one. Taking care of yourself is something you should do without a person who has severe depression. You want to avoid practicing self-care activities only enjoyed by others. Whether you enjoy getting a massage or taking a day trip to the beach, figure out what makes you feel refreshed.
Finally, helping someone with severe depression can feel rewarding at times and overwhelming at times. Remember, you do not have to take full responsibility for your loved one’s mental health. Set your healthy boundaries and know when to reach out for additional help. Utilize the resources available to you both.
- National Institute of Mental Health. Major Depression. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Published January 2022. Accessed October 5, 2022. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
- Pilkington K, Wieland LS. Self-care for anxiety and depression: a comparison of evidence from Cochrane reviews and practice to inform decision-making and priority-setting. BMC Complement Med Ther. 2020;20:247. doi:10.1186/s12906-020-03038-8
Last medically reviewed October 5, 2022