7 Ways to Support a Loved One with Depression

Illustration of one person helping another climb to the peak of a mountain.

With some simple gestures, you can make a big impact on the life of a loved one with depression. Depression is a lonely condition. Oftentimes, understanding and being present can go a long way. Here are some creative ideas to help someone you love cope with depression.

How to Help A Loved One with Depression

1. Be Present

One of the best things you can do for people diagnosed with depression is to be at their side. A study of family visits to elderly family members published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that the likelihood of depression symptoms decreased in correlation to the amount of in-person visits a participant received. The research is empirical proof that social interactions can be a “preventative strategy” to fight depression.

2. Educate Yourself

To better understand depression, it’s important that you do some research. Symptoms of depression can vary, so try speaking about your loved one’s experiences. Depending on your relationship, you could accompany your friend or family member to a doctor’s appointment to learn more about their condition and care. By having a conversation and being active in a loved one’s treatment, you can learn about the symptoms affecting him or her personally and how to overcome them.

3. Make a Meal

Appetite changes are a common complaint among people diagnosed with depression. When struggling with depression, tasks such as making a meal can be overwhelming. Bringing food to a loved one struggling with depression makes a world of difference. Whether you make it at their home or bring it from a restaurant, a shared meal could make someone you care for happier.

A study published in the World Journal of Psychiatry organized a list of foods that can aid in battling depression. Per the study, researchers examined 12 antidepressant nutrients which can be found in different proteins and vegetables. Foods were given antidepressant food scores (AFS) based on their efficacy. The study’s authors state eating a healthy amount of these foods could “support prevention and recovery” from major depressive disorder. 

Foods studied with the highest density of antidepressant nutrients include:

Animal foods AFS Plant foods AFS
Oysters 56% Watercress 127%
Liver and Organ
Meats
18-38% Spinach 97%
Poultry Giblets 31% Mustard, turnip or beet greens 76-93%
Clams 30% Lettuces 74-99%
Mussels 28% Swiss chard 90%

Source: Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression

4. Invite for a Walk

A study published by PLOS One (Public Library of Science) found that the more people move during the day, the happier and healthier they can be. The research from this study even showed that a person didn’t have to complete strenuous exercises in order to see positive results. Instead, “even slight changes” in physical movement can have positive effects on our happiness and physical health, the study said. Encouraging loved ones with depression to move around and keeping them company while they do it can truly impact their health and recovery.

5. Develop a Healthy Environment

Along with genetic links, environmental factors are also known to influence depression. Working at a job where you don’t feel valued, having stressful interactions at home or living in a dangerous neighborhood can all contribute to the disorder.

While you may not be able to fix major problems, there are small changes you can make that could contribute to a healthier environment. Consider organizing and cleaning around the house to reduce dust and clutter. If you have the time and resources, a new coat of paint in a room where they spend a lot of time could go a long way, and bringing over fresh flowers is a simple way to brighten their space as well. It can be hard for people struggling with depression to leave their home daily. Making home a place that brings them joy and feels fresh is a huge step.

6. Refocus Their Thoughts

Guilt is a common emotion associated with depression. While it’s normal for people to feel guilty about mistakes, people suffering from depression often experience guilt in a different way. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people with depression produce different responses in their brains to feelings of self-guilt compared to people without depression. This guilt can be hard to process and perpetuate depression.

One way to help someone you care for to overcome their depression-associated guilt is to help them see that they’re doing the best they can and focusing on what they are accomplishing daily, no matter how small. Remind them that their guilty thoughts are part of their disease. Point out the ways that they make your life better by being in it. By concentrating on positives or what can be accomplished, you may be able to help your friend or family member begin to see situations differently. Over time, supportive conversations and gestures can help your friend or relative feel better about themselves and distance themselves from the guilt.

7. Care for Yourself

When providing support for someone with depression, it’s important to care for yourself. When you understand that seeing your loved one struggle can impact your own mental and physical state, you’ll see the importance of you practicing self-care as well. There are even support groups for caregivers. The National Institute of Mental Health keeps a list of outreach partners in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Your local outreach partner could connect you and your loved one with the resources and support you might need.

Extending Support for Patients with Depression

If you’d like to help others struggling with depression on a larger scale, consider a behavioral health degree. Those holding a bachelor’s degree in behavioral health can work in hospitals, rehabilitation center, assistance programs and more to help those dealing with mental illness.

Alvernia University offers an online behavioral health degree. Balance education and a busy life through Alvernia University’s flexible online programs. Develop skills needed to succeed as a professional and learn from knowledgeable faculty in small class sizes.

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