Supporting Someone With Depression
Depression is a war fought inside your loved one's brain; they will need you more than ever, even if it seems as if they're being selfish or pushing you away. Here is how you can help:
Take their need seriously.
If your loved one tells you they are depressed and/or having suicidal thoughts, get them immediate professional treatment. Check with local mental health facilities, resources available through schools, or even area churches; help is available and is not always costly.
Your loved one may be fearful of receiving treatment for a variety of reasons. This does not mean that they are "faking it" or "just want attention"--depression itself forces a type of shaming isolation on the sufferer that can hinder them from seeking treatment for themselves. You, as a caring family member or friend, must go to bat for them, talking with them about common treatment fears, finding local treatment, even going with them to doctors' appointments. As hard and inconvenient as it will be for you, this is the best way you can help your loved one survive.
Stay close to your loved one, as much as possible.
Staying close may take the form of daily text messages, phone calls, visits, or even staying over at your loved one's home if they are severely suicidal. But whatever you do, make sure that you reach out to them and tell them how much you care, every day. Gather other friends and relatives together as well to do the same, to keep your suffering loved one in touch with life and society. Even just a short phone call can be a light in the darkness, but make sure it's sincere--us depressed folks can see through insincerity and it will only make our condition worse.
Research and try to understand your loved one's condition.
This is one reason I'm providing a site like this--I want non-sufferers to understand the life and feelings of a depressed person. Realizing that depression sucks the emotional and mental life out of a person, much as cancer drains the physical body of energy and health, is the first step toward being able to help your loved one. Researching and doing your best to understand is the best way to begin helping.
Many times, a non-sufferer's knee-jerk reaction to depression is to try to pretend it's not there, or to try to eradicate it with judgment, anger, or "tough love" (none of which helps AT ALL). Other times, a non-sufferer will feel guilty that they somehow caused their loved one's depression through inattention, or might believe that it is an indicator of bad parenting, abuse, or neglect. In both cases, it's important to realize that depression sometimes just happens and it's no one's fault. You didn't cause your loved one's illness, but you can help them get treatment for it and overcome it. Your compassion, care, and comfort are the tools for their ultimate survival.
Realize that you, too, will need emotional care and support.
As my parents, boyfriend, and friends can tell you, supporting a depressed person is NOT easy. They have had to deal with me being less than sociable, irrationally angry/crying, caught in self-doubt, and lots more. Because of this, I suggest that supporters also seek out professional care, or at least make time in your life for your own mental health needs. Being a caregiver takes a heavy emotional toll, and you can end up resentful and bitter towards your suffering loved one if you don't seek support for yourself.
Think of the support network around your loved one as a net, with each string of the net connected to all of the others to create a strong and flexible grid. Band together with other relatives and/or friends, call in all the support you need, and talk with each other often as you help your loved one fight this war.