It's important to understand that depression is a physical illness, not a mental weakness, and that someone can't just snap out of it and decide to feel better. Also know that you can't fix the problem on your own. Depression requires treatment, often including medication to alter levels of brain chemicals and some form of therapy to help change negative thought patterns.

Your friend or family member will not get better overnight, and you'll need to remain patient. But you can be hopeful. Most people with depression experience an improvement in their symptoms with treatment.

You also need to understand that this illness is not your fault, and that your loved one likely doesn't mean any hurtful things he or she may say to you. Although it certainly affects you, his or her depression is not about you, and so it's best not to take personally anything your friend or family member says while in the midst of a depressive episode.

Although depression has some common characteristics, it does affect each person differently. You can benefit from identifying the specific changes a depressive episode brings about in your loved one.

  • For example, does he or she use certain behaviors or language when feeling better or worse?
  • Does anything in particular seem to trigger an episode?
  • What seems to be most helpful when an incident is taking place?

You may be able to get answers to these questions through observation, but you should also ask your loved one for guidance. If the person gives permission, you can also gain insight by talking to his or her doctor.

Provide Practical Support

People with depression often have trouble mustering the energy for life's daily tasks and social activities. Besides expressing your care and concern, there are a number of ways you can help someone stay connected and involved.

  • Offer to drive him or her to doctor's appointments or pick up prescriptions.
  • Schedule time together—go for a walk or to the movies, or stay in to play a board game or work together on an activity.
  • Deliver dinner occasionally or offer to accompany him or her to the grocery store.
  • Volunteer to take over a task like laundry, housework, or bills.
  • Listen. Make sure your loved one knows that you are available to hear what he or she has to say. Try not to offer advice or opinions; just let the person express his or her feelings.

Take Care of Yourself

Caring for someone with depression can take its toll on you, both mentally and physically. To stay at your best and most helpful, be sure to take some time for yourself. Ask other relatives and friends to schedule some time with your companion so that you can take a break.

Use the time to get some physical activity, take a nap, get a massage, or do whatever will recharge you.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 18 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 18 Aug 2013