Depression is a serious mental health disorder affecting about 5% of the global population. It can severely impact a person’s life and cause a lot of distress for the people closest to them. If someone you love is depressed, you may be experiencing various emotions, including sadness, helplessness and frustration. Watching a loved one struggle with their mental health is difficult, but understanding how to help someone with severe depression can make the situation more bearable.
Depression is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities. It can adversely affect how you think, feel and behave, leading to numerous physical and emotional issues. Some people only experience depression once, while others may undergo multiple depressive episodes. Common symptoms of depression include:
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, including hobbies, sports or sex
- Feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness
- Lack of energy, even with small tasks
- Angry outbursts, irritability or anxiety
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Self-blame or fixating on past failures
- Trouble thinking, concentrating and making decisions
- Reduced appetite or weight loss
- Social isolation
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
How Depression Can Impact the Family
Although depression can be debilitating for the person diagnosed, it can also negatively impact their family members. For example, growing up with a parent or caregiver who has depression can affect a child physically, mentally and emotionally. The parent may withdraw socially, reducing a child’s ability to form healthy connections and gain valuable social skills, or neglect to provide basic necessities, emotional support or financial security.
Parents with a depressed child also face challenges, especially if they have other children to care for, too. They may feel torn between ensuring their child with depression has access to the help and support they need and properly taking care of their other children. This can create conflicts within the family, since the siblings may not fully understand depression and question why more attention is being given to that one child.
In general, seeing depression in a loved one can leave you feeling anxious, overwhelmed, worried or afraid. It can also cause family members to feel guilty if they’re unsure how to help.
How to Help Someone With Severe Depression
Despite the negative effects depression can cause, it’s a treatable disorder. The person with depression may not know how to ask for support, and family members aren’t expected to have all the answers. However, if you want to know how to help someone with severe depression, there are a few things you can do.
Staying open-minded and fostering nonjudgmental communication within the family can create a safe space where your depressed loved one feels comfortable discussing their emotions and concerns. When they’re ready to talk, it’s important to listen without interrupting or offering opinions or advice, especially if it’s their first time opening up. Simply being there and listening is enough to help them start healing.
Those with depression may not speak up because they’re afraid no one will understand what they’re going through. Providing your loved one with unconditional emotional support and being patient when they try explaining their feelings can make a world of difference. Show empathy toward their struggles and help them establish healthier habits, such as engaging in a creative activity when they’re feeling depressed. This can help them feel supported even if you don’t understand what they’re experiencing.
Suggesting treatment immediately may intimidate your relative, but once they become comfortable opening up, they may be more receptive to seeking professional treatment. Offering support throughout the process may encourage them to consistently attend therapy appointments and stick to their medication schedule.
Keep in mind that an antidepressant may affect your loved one’s mood while their body adjusts to the new medication. Since the treatment process looks different for everyone, your loved one may need to try several medications or even switch therapists before they find the combination that works for them.
Practice Self-Care Techniques for the Whole Family
If you’re part of a family dealing with depression, you may be feeling the impact on your own mental health. As much as you want to help your loved one get better, you can’t sacrifice your own health and well-being in the process. You should also prioritize yourself and seek help if caring for a loved one becomes too overwhelming or stressful.
Consider going to therapy or joining a support group to meet other people going through similar situations. Having people you can relate and vent to can improve your overall mental health and lead to tips or advice that can be helpful in caring for your family member. Practicing self-care techniques can also help alleviate stress, burnout and other unpleasant emotions. Examples include:
- Going for walks
- Practicing yoga or meditation
- Eating healthy
- Getting enough sleep
- Painting or drawing
- Listening to music
- Learning a new hobby
If caring for your loved one becomes too mentally demanding and you start experiencing symptoms of depression yourself, you may want to seek help from other family members, even for a short period. This can give you time to rest, catch up with friends or get out of town for a bit. Your life is also important, and it’s not possible to be solely responsible for another person 24/7.
Seek Professional Mental Health Treatment
Witnessing a loved one struggle with depression can be difficult and result in many unpleasant emotions, including frustration, helplessness and anger. Although these are all natural responses, helping your loved one seek professional treatment can reduce their symptoms of depression and alleviate these emotions for you.
Restore Mental Health specializes in treating depression and offers various medications and therapies, including family therapy, that can be customized to fit your loved one’s needs. While professional treatment is designed to aid the individual, it can be beneficial for the entire family’s well-being. Contact Restore today to learn how our services can help.