If Your Loved One Has Depression—How to Help

How do you help a friend or family member who has depression? Remember, depression is highly treatable, so the most important thing you can do is help your loved one get treatment. This may involve making a doctor’s appointment for your friend and accompanying him or her to the doctor’s office. Once he or she begins treatment, you can continue to help by encouraging your friend to stay on treatment.

Importantly, your personal support can also help your friend or family member confront depression. Offer emotional support and encouragement and listen thoughtfully. Invite him or her to enjoy fun activities with you. Focus on the positive but take seriously comments about suicide and warning signs that depression is worsening; notify your loved one’s therapist or doctor immediately in such an event.

What if my loved one is thinking about harming him- or herself?
Get help immediately. Call 911 or take your friend to an emergency room as soon as possible. Call his or her doctor or therapist. You can also speak to a trained counselor by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-TALK (8255). The suicidal person should never be left alone, so ask friends and family for assistance. Also, make sure that he or she has no access to weapons, firearms, pills, or other means of self-injury.

Types of Depression

There are several forms of depression, and the way that a person experiences this illness will depend on what kind of depression he or she has. The most commons forms are major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder or Major Depression. Individuals with this form of depression are likely to have trouble working, sleeping, and studying, and will no longer enjoy activities they once did. An episode of major depression, which may occur once in a person’s lifetime or more frequently, prevents normal functioning so much so that it’s disabling.

Dysthymic Disorder or Dysthymia. Individuals with dysthymia don’t experience symptoms that are as severe as those of major depression, but their depression lasts for two years or longer. They may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetime. Though dysthymia isn’t disabling, it can interfere with normal functioning and prevent a person from feeling well.

Other forms of depression include:

Psychotic Depression. A person suffering from psychotic depression will experience severe depression along with some form of psychosis, such as a break with reality, hallucinations, and delusions.

Postpartum Depression. This form of depression affects an estimated 10 to 15 percent of new mothers. A depressive episode is considered postpartum when it occurs within one month after giving birth.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Depression that occurs during winter months, when there is less natural sunlight, is considered SAD. Some people with SAD try treatment with light therapy. But because many do not respond to light therapy alone, SAD may also be treated with antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. In general, this form of depression lessens during spring and summer months.

Bipolar Disorder or Manic-depressive Illness. People with bipolar disorder experience severe mood changes that go from extreme highs (mania) to extreme lows (depression). In addition to mood, these dramatic swings affect energy and ability to function. Long-term treatment, including medication and psychotherapy, can help stabilize mood swings.

Suicide

Depression is a risk factor for suicide. Suicide occurs when a person ends his or her own life. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the eleventh cause of death among Americans. Understanding the risk factors for suicide and learning to recognize early warning signs are important steps in prevention.

Risk Factors for Suicide:

  • A previous suicide attempt
  • A history of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • A family history of suicide or other violence
  • Serious medical illness
  • Feeling alone
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Rage and anger
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Reckless behavior
  • Family history of child abuse
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)

Warning Signs of Suicide:

  • Changes in mood, diet, or sleeping pattern
  • Discussing or writing about suicide or threatening to harm oneself
  • Looking for ways to harm oneself and seeking access to means to do so (weapons, firearms, or pills)

Resources

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-TALK (8255)

The National Institute of Mental Health

The American Association of Suicidology

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center

Sources

Depression. The National Institute of Mental Health Web site. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Accessed May, 2010.

Know the Warning Signs. The American Association of Suicidology Web site. http://www.suicidology.org/web/guest/stats-and-tools/warning-signs. Accessed May, 2010.

Suicide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/suicide/index.html. Accessed May, 2010.