A lot of this advice can be used for other mental illnesses, but these tips are centered around depression because that is what I have the most experience with/research for. Before we get into specific tips for supporting someone with depression, it is important to realize that everyone’s depression and needs are different. Some of my advice may not be right for your loved one, but the fact that you are reading this article—the fact that you are actively working to support them—means that you are heading in the right direction. Thank you for that.
So let’s get into it.
Understand Their Love Language
If you don’t have experience with love languages, go get acquainted. You can learn more here and take the quiz to figure out your love language here. Have a conversation with your loved one about their love language and use this to support them; if they are inclined toward words of affirmation, remember to verbally tell them how much you love them, that they aren’t a burden, and that you’re proud of them for fighting. If they feel love through quality time, take them on a drive to listen to music or sit with them and talk or keep them company while they clean their room—you can include an act of service here by helping them clean. Depression can make even the simplest things like doing the dishes feel impossible. Helping them get tasks like that out of the way can be a huge help.
Here, notice that everyone is different; some people are spread between love languages and will appreciate any act of love. Some people do not respond at all to one or more of the love languages. Understanding your loved one and listening to their needs is most important here.
Listen Without Being Judgemental or Triggering
If your loved one is speaking to you about their depression symptoms and challenges, the worst thing you could do is be critical of them or minimize their feelings. They do not need to hear that they should try harder to get better or that others have it worse than them. If you have personal experience with depression as well, be careful when speaking about specific elements of your suffering. Your experience and well-being matter deeply, and you deserve support, but keep in mind that details of your story may trigger a loved one. Just let them speak about what they are experiencing, listen actively, and only give advice if they ask for it.
Point Them Toward Mental Health Resources
Instead of giving unwarranted advice, act as a bridge between your friend and the resources that may help them. Offer to help them search for affordable and appropriate counseling, other supportive friends and family members, and educational resources. Understand that these resources will not be a cure-all for their depression. If they do choose to pursue counseling or other resources, their mental wellness will still be a journey. Remain patient and understanding.
Ask Them What They Need
No matter how well you know your loved one, you may not be able to guess what their needs are at that specific time. If you have the opportunity to ask when they aren’t in a depressive episode, I would suggest trying to ask your loved one general things that help when they are in one. They won’t be dealing with as much of the “fog” of depression at that time, so they may be able to tell you what usually helps them. Notice that this won’t work for everyone, though. Some depression seems to always be present, and some episodes last much longer than others. In this case, it would still be valuable to gently ask your loved one if there is anything specific you can or should do.
Be prepared for them to say no, or even that they want to be left alone. The most important thing here is not to act frustrated or angry. Depression is confusing and tiring and sometimes it feels impossible to think of something that will help. People with depression do not want to worry or frustrate others, so do not make your loved one feel this. Let them know that you love them, you are willing to give them whatever care they need if they can think of anything, and that you’ll be there when the episode is over.
Remember That Your Needs And Boundaries Matter
Your loved one needs and deserves support and so do you. There may be times when you are too overwhelmed to help in that moment or something they say may be triggering for you, and you have to be prepared to set and maintain boundaries. If you are experiencing poor mental health, let your loved one know that you aren’t in the headspace to speak with them about heavy subjects but that you love and support them. Taking care of your own mental health is not selfish: it is necessary, and the only way that you can continue supporting others. One of my favorite sayings about this is that you cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to recharge and take care of yourself in order to support. Do not forget that or feel guilty for it.
I hope that you will continue to research ways to support your loved one and yourself. In combination with everything above, I want to leave you with some additional resources I have personally used and found helpful.
Some Instagrams to follow/consult:
The Baylor Counseling Center (call their office number to set up an initial assessment or call the BUCC Crisis Line: (254)710-2467 )