In The Know Zone

helping a depressed person

Helping Someone who is Depressed

If someone you love is clinically depressed, your most important task will be to help him or her obtain a proper diagnosis and effective treatment.  That sounds simpler than it is.

You are dealing with someone who probably has no faith whatever that his or (more probably) her dismal situation will improve, and who will thus be unmotivated to seek help.

Even getting a depressed person to undertake treatment is only a small step toward recovery.  He or she is beginning the treatment process in a discouraged frame of mind, and the treatment will extend for weeks or even months with slow and not always steady progress

You should be prepared to assist and encourage the depression victim at every stage:

  • Become informed.  Learn as much as you can about depression and its treatment
  • Go through the depression symptom list with the depressed person, item by item, so you can learn how the person is truly feeling
  • If need be, make a doctor’s appointment for the patient and offer to accompany him
  • Make sure he or she is taking medication properly
  • Monitor his or her progress, and be prepared to report to the doctor if you see no signs of improvement after several weeks
  • Encourage the patient to follow the doctor’s orders about any restrictions on alcohol consumption
  • Be aware of your own emotional status.  A loved one’s serious depression takes a great emotional and psychological toll on those who care about them.

The second most important thing you can offer is emotional support.  This will demand your utmost patience, understanding, affection and encouragement.

  • Encourage the depressed person to talk, and listen carefully
  • Be prepared for rejection.  A depressed person’s feelings of frustration, worthlessness or helplessness may manifest themselves as anger or rejection.  Be understanding and patient.
  • Do not disparage his or her feelings.  They may seem unrealistic and negative to you, but they are very real to the depressed person.
  • Do not ignore comments about suicide.  Report them to the patient’s therapist
  • Invite the depressed person to go for walks, outings, to movies, to cultural events or religious services--any activity he or she previously found enjoyable or important.  Be gently insistent if the invitation is refused.  But don’t push the patient to attempt too much too soon.
  • Under no circumstances accuse the depressed person of faking illness, or laziness, even if you imagine it is “for their own good.”  It will be perceived as rejection and will greatly undermine your ability to help. [38]

[38] Contents of this section adapted from Depression, NIH Publication 00-3561, 2000, p. 8;, Helping a Depressed Person Receive Treatment for Depression, available at; accessed 8 July 2004

In The Know: At Risk Pamphlet/ DVD Package
In The Know: At Risk DVD Package