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Ways To Help A Loved One Through Depression

It’s painful to watch people you love go through hard things. Helping loved ones through depression can be a heavy, scary, and even rewarding experience. You may feel urges to fix the problem or save them, feel helpless, and take on their emotions as your own. Even though these may be automatic reactions to tough situations, there are ways to empower yourself to show up with a different, more helpful response instead. Especially in the case where your loved one is struggling with depression.

The most important step is to make sure you are taking care of yourself before providing support for others. There is an example used in recovery rooms repetitively: If a plane is crashing, you put on your own oxygen mask. Then, you can help the people next to you and eventually move to the rest of the plane. Without your own oxygen, you are useless to the people around you.  

When people you love are going through difficult experiences, a knee-jerk reaction may be to give your oxygen to them first. Helping your loved ones is wonderful and shifting your perspective about how that help might look for both of you can be life changing. It feels rewarding to help people you love. Solving problems is an admirable quality and often encouraged, but it is not helpful when it’s at the expense of your own well-being.  

No matter how badly you want to interrupt grief or crisis for someone, it’s not your job as a loved one. There are words of encouragement that you can offer, resources that you can give, and therapy to consider. You are not your friend’s, child’s, parent’s sibling’s, co-worker’s therapist, even if you are a professional therapist.

You are not here to solve problems for friends or family members. Unsolicited advice is often a barrier to intimacy and vulnerability in relationships. As much as you may want to let people know what you feel is right, this may not be your crisis or what’s best for them. 

Being able to switch a reaction to a response like wanting to offer advice or fix their pain often requires a pause. Though well intended, trying to fix, offering advice, encouraging “seeing the bright side” can be more harmful than helpful to someone who is struggling with depression.

THINK is a slogan that is used in recovery but is helpful no matter what. Before you speak, ask yourself whether it is Thoughtful, Helpful, Intelligent, Necessary, and Kind. The act of pausing before speaking can mitigate damage in relationships and allow you time to reflect on what is actually best for you, and your loved one.   

Instead of offering advice to loved ones who are in pain and struggling with depression or another mental illness, there are thoughtful ways to show you care. Depending on your relationship with the person struggling, your availability and what you are willing to do to helpt, there are many options available for you. 

Show up as yourself.
When we worry about others, we can become anxious and awkward; often worried about saying or doing the right or wrong thing. Show up as you. That’s who they want to spend time with.

Offer kindness, a treat, your company.
Sometimes it really is the thought that counts. When you can’t take away someone’s suffering, you can let them know you are there and they are not alone in their suffering.  

Encourage seeking other social support.
Whether that is friends, family, or other supports, having a larger support network, if that is available to your loved one can be helpful in feeling less alone. Support groups are also an option to consider.

Listen without giving advice.
Advice giving can feel good for the person giving advice, and can feel dismissive or add to overwhelm for someone struggling with depression. Listening is an action you can take that is more helpful than you might imagine.

Don’t make promises you can’t or don’t want to keep.
If you tell your loved one you are there for them, be there for them. If you aren’t okay with or don’t have the time to spend with someone, don’t offer it. If you say you are available or that you will do something for them, do it. Broken promises don’t feel good to anyone.

Give your time to people you love.
Time is valuable as are the ones we love. When we give our time to those we love, we build a sense of support, stability, care and love.  

Prioritize people you care about the most.
If we spread ourselves too thin, offering support for those we don’t know that well, we can neglect our needs and the needs of those we love.

Take a weekly walk with your people to build your community of support.
Walks are good for the heart, body and soul. When we walk with people who are important to us we stay connected to our supports and get some healthy movement in as well. Movement and connection are both important when someone is struggling with depression.

Help your loved one find professional support.
Finding help can feel extremely overwhelming when you’re not struggling and even more so when you are. Help is available and sometimes, it takes a few phone calls and emails to find the right fit. Offering support in this process can lift a heavy load for someone struggling with depression. Places to start: Denver Metro Counseling, Denver Therapy Match, Therapy Den, OpenPath Collective, Psychology Today

Become knowledgeable about depression.
There is a wealth of information available about depression. Understanding depression is more than just feeling sad or down, can help you gain insight into your loved one’s struggle. Depression is not the same for everyone, however, some of the experiences are.

Whether you have a loved one who is going through a depressive episode right now or has been for awhile, the way you show up can still be the same. It is not your responsibility to fix, make better, or give advice. When you feel the need to do so, check in with what needs you can meet for yourself. For your loved ones, the best resources are professionals who can tenderly and objectively help them with their grief. Seeking help as someone struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental health issues can be overwhelming. Offering help in this process can alleviate some stress on both your loved one and yourself.

Mental illness like depression and anxiety can be draining but smothering actions can make it worse. When it occurs, showing up and following through are steps you can take. Otherwise, professionals like therapists, are the most helpful. You can encourage someone to find a wonderful therapist; you don’t need to be their therapist.  

Get Help

No matter what, it is a challenge to navigate depression. It may feel impossible at times. Often, you may worry about people in your life because of how much you love them. Love and worry are not synonymous. By finding resources that are most helpful to you and helping or allowing others to do the same for themselves is a true test of strength. It is the difference between powerlessness and helplessness. You are often powerless, but you are not helpless.

Maintaining peace of mind is an act of love for yourself and others. You are valuable to your loved ones. Discerning between self-care that benefits others and caretaking can encourage everyone to find the help that is best suitable for their circumstance.  

If you are worried about a loved one’s risk of suicide, there is immediate help available to you and them. Colorado has one of the nation’s leading crisis lines that offers peer and professional support for those in need of mental health support. You can provide your loved one with the crisis information, or can contact them on behalf of your loved one or together. To speak with a peer (somoene who has lived-experience with mental illness or substance abuse) or clinician call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text “Help” to 38255.


Written by: Randi Thackeray, MA
Clinically Reviewed and Edited by: Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACS, ACC

Read also:
Help For Depression: Finding Hope Through Support
Teen Depression Is On The Rise. Here’s How Parents Can Help.
4 Tips For Managing Depression When It’s Hard

Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We provide supportive therapy for people struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, ADHD, negative body image, and more
Denver Metro Counseling

Our Clinician’s Bios:
Audrey Bristol, LSW
Molly Ward, LCSW
Karan Steuart, LCSW, LAC
Julie Reichenberger, MA, LPC, ACC, ACS

Follow Denver Metro Counseling on Facebook: Denver Metro Counseling and Instagram: @denvermetrocounseling for other helpful information.