Depression is a widely misunderstood mental health disorder. Depression affects people’s careers, sexuality, physical health, and emotional health. But one affect is often ignored because it lives in the periphery. Family, friends, spouses, children, and significant others are also greatly affected by their loved one’s depression. They too carry the burden of depression. Often, treatment only focuses on the individual, but what about those who care for them? What are family members and significant others supposed to do when their loved one is in emotional pain? How can they help? How can they care for themselves when caring for their loved one? These are important questions that are rarely discussed. Below you will find 10 steps to take when your loved is depressed.

  1. Depression doesn’t define your loved one. Depression can change a person’s personality. However, the change isn’t permanent. Think of depression like turning the volume dial down on a speaker. It’s still playing the same music, but at diminished level. Your family member still has the same personality, but it is turned down. People recover from depression every day and regain their energy, motivation and most importantly, their personality. That person you once knew is still there.
  2. Remember to take care of yourself. Taking care of and or living with someone who is suffering from depression can be emotionally taxing. It is not selfish for you to take care of yourself. It also doesn’t mean you also have to be depressed. There is an appropriate level of emotional distance that is healthy for your wellbeing and for you loved one. Too much involvement in their mental illness can be a bad thing. Also, you are showing your loved one how to take care of themselves when you take care of yourself.
  3. Have patience. Depending on what type of depression your loved one has, recovery will take a great deal of time. Know that there is a lot of trial and error in recovery. The reason being, depression compromises someone’s motivation for healing. In many other types of mental illness, despite the gravity of the psychological issue, their motivation for healing and change is strong. With depression, that motivation is greatly diminish. Without motivation for change, depression takes a long time to heal. Therefore, have patience with your loved one and have patience with the process of healing. If they are taking medication, going to counseling, or attending a support group, give time for these treatments to work.
  4. Maintain a predictable and regular schedule. Depression has a way of stalling life. It is like chewing molasses; it makes life slow and arduous. This affects your loved one and it affects you as well. It’s important to acknowledge that. Yet, it doesn’t have to overwhelm your life. You can still have dreams, goals and ambitions while still taking time to be there for your loved one. In fact, when your life is built on the foundation of structure, routine, and predictability, you create a stable environment. Stability is something your loved one needs when they feel like they are emotionally spiraling down.
  5. Look for vicarious symptoms. Be watchful for taking on the depressed symptoms of your loved one. Since your loved one has been diagnosed with depression, or when they started showing signs of depression, have you noticed, in yourself, any of the following:
  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches[1]

If you are experiencing any of the aforementioned symptoms, take notice. As I mentioned before, be consistent with your self-care. Take time for yourself to recharge your batteries. You may even need to seek out a counselor for yourself. You are no help to anyone if you are living an emotionally drained life.

  1. You are not enough. Know that you are not enough. The love, help, support, and care you provide for your loved is important, but it’s not enough. This is a difficult pill to swallow, yet, it can come as a relief to some. You are not enough because you shouldn’t be. Your loved one’s recovery from depression shouldn’t rest entirely on your shoulders. It has been said ‘it takes a village to raise a child,’ well, it also takes a village to help a depressed person recover. Seek out support structures for your loved one so that you aren’t the only lifeline. Support structures can be anything: faith community, pastoral care, support groups, clubs, online gamer affiliations, depression forums, friends, family members, treatment groups, and mental health professionals.
  2. Work with mental health professionals. Mental health professionals are trained in evidence-based treatments that can help those suffering from mental health disorders like depression. Counselors have expertise in depression and are effective at treating the disorder. In addition to counseling, taking medication prescribed and monitored by a psychiatrist is effective treatment. Counselors also run group therapy for depressed clients. These treatments work best in combination.
  3. Be informed. Learning as much as you can about the nature of depression can only help you and your loved one. Read, study and research the causes of depression, symptoms, and treatments. Some of the causes may be:
  • Stressful events such as the death of a loved one, unemployment, childhood trauma, divorce, or domestic abuse
  • A chronic medical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or cancer
  • Parents, siblings, or other family members with a history of depression
  • Drug or alcohol abuse[2]

Understanding the cause can help you, as a family member or significant other, support your loved one. They may have depression that is based in a medical condition. If that’s the case, they need to see a doctor. If they are depressed due to a drug addiction, they may need to be checked into an inpatient or outpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility. If the cause is stress, they may need to see a counselor to work on effective stress management strategies. Identifying the cause of depression can be helpful in its treatment.

  1. Adjust your expectations. Recognize that your loved one may not have the same goals, ambitions, drive, and passion as they once had before depression. You will need to adjust your expectations. You won’t be able to depend on them like you once did. The support, love and affection you received from them won’t be as readily available as it once was. Depression makes people forgetful, absent minded, and lethargic. If you send them out shopping, they may come back without some items you requested. In social settings, they may not be as entertaining as they once were. This is not their fault. Don’t hold it against them. You need to adjust your expectations.
  2. Maintain hope. The worst thing you can do is lose hope. Your loved one needs you now more than ever. They may be hopeless, but they can lean on your hope and belief. Recovery from depression is possible; people do it every day. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, trial and error, treatment and the support of a community, but it’s possible. The way of recovery may seem unclear, but, trust the process.

[1] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/symptoms/CON-20032977. Retrieval Date: Sept. 5th, 2016.

[2] https://www.drugs.com/cg/depression.html. Retrieval date: Sept. 5th, 2016.

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