Depression can be difficult to understand if you’ve never gone through it yourself. If a family member has been diagnosed with it, or even if it just seems likely they have it, many people find it challenging to know how to help.
That’s why today we hope to lay out some of the basics of supporting family members with depression. We’ll talk about how depression works, how it doesn’t, and give some actionable advice on how to help.
Learn the Basics
The first step to supporting family members diagnosed with depression is doing some research. You may think you know about depression but you’re also probably not a medical expert. It will help everyone if you review how depression really works.
A good place to start with researching medical conditions is with verified, reputable online sources. For example, the US National Library of Medicine runs MedlinePlus. There you can find a summary of a condition and links to additional info.
To cover the basics, depression is characterized by a few common symptoms:
- A feeling of sadness and/or emptiness
- A lack of motivation, even to do hobbies one once enjoyed or tasks important to supporting oneself
- Over or undereating
- Tiredness and/or fatigue
- Pains, headaches, cramps, and/or digestive issues
- A feeling of irritability, anxiety, and/or guilt
- A feeling of hopelessness and/or nihilism
- Thoughts about death or even suicide
Note however that many people experiencing the above don’t experience every symptom. It’s also worth noting there are several different depressive disorders, each with its own nuances and unique symptoms.
Moreover, depression comes in many levels of severity. For some, it can be crippling, while for others, it’s an occasional obstacle. Depression isn’t always obvious; many people with depression still can hold jobs and pay bills.
Your Family Members Need Understanding
Once you know the basics about what your family member is going through, now the hard part begins. You need to try understanding and empathizing with their specific circumstances.
A family member with depression, from the outside, may seem “lazy” or “rude.” While there is some nuance to what is and isn’t acceptable (since depressed people still control their choices), this isn’t a good way to look at things.
For someone with depression, basic tasks can seem impossible. Cleaning, working, and even eating can seem like monumental chores.
Furthermore, calling them things like lazy will only make the situation worse. People with depression are often tense and have low self-esteem. Calling them names can both make you seem like the enemy and make them feel even worse.
Your goal should always be understanding and gently encourage healthy choices. Let them know you are there to help and have been worried about their wellbeing. Avoid accusations and anger, even if you are frustrated.
There are a huge number of myths surrounding depression. While not as prevalent as they once were, they still need to be discussed. Believing any one of these myths could torpedo your ability to help depressed family members:
Myth – Depression isn’t a Real Mental Illness
Truth: Depression is a well-known, well-researched mental health condition that needs to be taken seriously. Severe depression can cripple a person and many types of depression will require the help of a medical professional to treat.
Myth – Depression Can Be Snapped Out Of
Truth: Fixing depression takes far more than “positive thinking” or “getting over it.” It takes time, energy, and often a great deal of hard work on both the depressed person’s fault and their support system.
It’s also worth noting that declaring someone should “get over” their depression will make things worse. At best, it shows your ignorance. At worst, it could make them feel alone or stupid for something outside their control.
Myth – Medication “Cures” Depression
Truth: This point is somewhat complicated as medication can help with depression. In fact, many patients see huge positive changes once they and their doctor find the right treatment for them.
At the same time, medication alone won’t “fix” depression. In fact, some depression is even resistant to medication. People with this type of depression are actually prime candidates for our TMS services.
Offering a Helping Hand
With all the above in mind, we’ve compiled a list of actionable tips to help a depressed family member on their journey to recovery:
- Let the family member know you’re worried about their mental wellbeing
- Ask if there is anything you can do to help, with common ways of helping including cooking meals, helping them clean, or driving them to places they need to go to support themselves
- Encourage them to seek the help of medical professionals if they haven’t already; this might include therapy, psychiatry, or whatever else experts who have talked to them recommend
- Guide them to make healthy choices, such as to continue taking their medication (unless their doctor says otherwise) and to continue work or school if at all possible
- Remind them that you love them, that they matter to you, and you want to know if there is any way you can help them
We know the above is a lot and not every family member can provide it all every day. That said, offering it when you can really help in the depression recovery process.
Much of mental illness support, in general, is about building a healthy network. The more people a person has in their life that are empathetic and helpful, the easier recovery is.
Our Services Can Help
Family depression is often hard to handle. We watch someone close to us struggle and suffer. The good news is that family members are often the most equipped to offer help.
If a person’s depression has seemed resistant to traditional treatment, we may be able to help. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an FDA-approved, cutting-edge treatment that has done real good for many people struggling with depression.
We encourage people with depression, whether your treatment isn’t working at all or just isn’t working as well as you’d like, to schedule a consultation with us.