It’s scary when a friend or family member is suffering from clinical depression. Many people have a sense of not knowing what to do to help. Here are 10 practical suggestions.
1. Encourage the person to participate in a science-based treatment.
For depression of moderate severity, good treatment options are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT), or antidepressant medication.
Generic “counseling” is likely to be less useful than a treatment that is supported by research.
2. Schedule a regular time to see each other.
When someone is depressed, everything feels like it takes more effort.
Planning and initiating can seem overwhelming. To overcome this, have a standing “date” that works for you both. For example, you catch up briefly after work each Thursday.
3. Exercise together.
We all know how easy it is to make excuses not to exercise. Exercise stimulates neurotransmitters that help lift depression. Integrate exercise into your social relationship. You can keep this low key. For example, walking to the local shopping centre or taking a dog for a walk. If you live with the depressed person, try to make a daily routine of exercising together. “Mere presence support” can be enough to make exercise feel more achievable.
4. Cook (or food shop) together.
Part of the cycle of depression is that people often feel too depressed to prepare healthy meals. Hang out together and prepare some healthy meals your loved one can pop in their freezer.
5. Familiarize yourself with some of the common cognitive distortions associated with depression.
For example, catastrophizing and making negative predictions. Learn an easy technique for counteracting negative predictions.
6. Encourage your loved one to use physiological self-soothing strategies.
See tip #3 in this article. Physiological strategies like slow breathing directly affect the parasympathetic nervous system and can reduce the intensity of someone’s distress in mere seconds.
7. Find out what types of self-criticism your friend is doing.
Help educate your loved one about how self-criticism impairs problem solving and what to do about.
8. Be aware of unhelpful relationship patterns.
For example, if a friend has been ringing you everyday to tell you how miserable they are, won’t try things that are likely to help their mood, and never asks about your day, you might need to figure out how you can set some limits and expectations without withdrawing your support. Doing this in the right way is likely to benefit both of you.
9. Directly ask your loved one about their safety if you’re concerned.
Many people experience suicidal thoughts when they’re depressed. For most people these do not result in suicide attempts. Don’t be afraid to ask directly. If necessary, help your loved one develop a safety plan for what they can do if they’re feeling suicidal, or ask them about the safety plan they’ve developed with their psychologist.
10. Put your own oxygen mask on first.
Take care of your own mental health and self-care needs.
If you’ve been depressed, what type of social support helped you?
What advice would you give for how to help someone with depression?
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