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The Best Ways to Help Someone Who is Dealing With Depression

Most of us will experience depression at some point in our lives. If you’re paying attention, this can give you insights into how to be supportive to other people in need. So, what is the best way to help someone who is dealing with depression?

Don’t Try to Cheer them Up 

Helping someone with depression is not as simple as cracking a joke or trying to cheer them up. When someone is going through a depressive episode, they might feel disconnected from their sense of purpose in life. They could feel powerless, hopeless, and even worthless. So a lot of the time, it seems like they don’t want your help, but really, they just don’t believe you can actually help them. 

Educate Yourself 

A lot of people are uneducated about depression and mental health. So even well intentioned efforts may backfire. It’s normal to think of depression as a problem that needs to be solved, but really, it’s a condition that needs to be understood. 

Trying to help can be incredibly frustrating if you don’t understand why they can’t just lighten up and take it easy. Not understanding is exactly what prevents you from helping. You need to understand what depression is and how it works. As you do your research you’ll find that successfully managing depression requires a healthy lifestyle and in some cases, medication. You will begin to see how diet, exercise, sleep and other habits affect someone’s mind and mood.  

Try to Understand Before You Give Any Advice 

Once you gain all this knowledge and learn the techniques for improving these habits, you might have the urge to go dump all this information on someone with depression and tell them to go do it and fix it. You go into advice giving mode. But that doesn’t work. 

Now that you understand depression in a general sense, you need to connect with that person. Don’t just tell them what they need to do to change their lifestyle, ask them about it. They may not realize how big of an impact food, exercise, and sleep can have on their mood. If you try to give advice before they feel understood, they will shut down. 

The Gentle Way to Give Advice 

A gentler approach is to just ask questions about their lifestyle. Ask them if they’ve met with a doctor yet or if they are willing to. A medication adjustment can make a huge difference for someone dealing with depression.  Ask them about their diet, exercise routine, and sleeping habits. Chances are their answers will be: "My diet is terrible, I don’t exercise at all and I stay up really late.” 

Be gentle; shaming them and reminding them that they aren’t doing a good enough job won’t help and could make things worse. Sometimes the depression actually requires medication and therapy in addition to healthy lifestyle changes. You may not be a doctor, but everyone is qualified to help people become more aware of their habits and get them thinking about how to be a little healthier. Simply asking if they’ve considered seeking help can sometimes be enough to remind them that help is available. Your friend may have never spoken with a doctor about their depression and could use some help setting up the first appointment. 

An Example is a Powerful Thing 

Ultimately, the responsibility to take steps towards treating the depression falls on their shoulders. The most effective way to influence your friends is through your example. If you are living a healthy lifestyle yourself, you can speak with authority when discussing the effects it has on your mood. Not everyone is clinically depressed, but everyone experiences a range of emotion. A healthy lifestyle results in a better state of mind for everyone, so be healthy and set an example. 

Read more from Layne Cornell for IBPF here.

Comments

Thank you for your post. Most of what you suggest is true and very helpful. Depression is complicated and can be situational, chemical, and/or biological or all three. I disagree with dont crack a joke or try to cheer them up... even though it wont cure the depression or treat it long term...sometimes just a temporary reprieve is welcomed and beneficial. Its true that laughter is the best medicine and any time someone can make me laugh, depressed or not, i feel better and get reconnected to life, love and myself. God bless.

I actually agree with the author here. Though you definitely have a point, it personally makes me feel kind of terrible when I am incapable of laughing at a close friend's attempt to cheer me up. I just can't when I am at my lowest. It can honestly become bothersome.

Debbie, thanks for the comment. I think you may be right about cracking a joke... I just think it must be done correctly. My point was that too often people think they can cure someone's depression by trying to cheer them up. Perhaps it would have been better to say, "keep in mind that depression is a clinical condition and don't expect to cure it simply by craking a joke." Thanks for the feedback.

I really like your tip about educating yourself about depression. My husband has been dealing with it for the past few years and it has really helped me to understand what he is going through as I learn more about it. I would definitely recommend these tips to anyone who knows someone who is struggling with mental illness. http://www.drkuris.com

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