8 ways to support loved ones suffering from depression

Closeup shot of two unrecognisable people holding hands

Depression is a growing problem, both nationally and in Tennessee.

The CDC recently reported that nearly 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. have been diagnosed with depression. Meanwhile, Tennessee has the third highest rate of depression in the country, with 24.1% reporting having received a diagnosis. That doesn’t include people who haven’t reported being diagnosed—or haven’t been diagnosed yet. With those rates, chances are good that someone you love is suffering from depression.

“Depression can affect anyone: our friends, our family members, our coworkers, even ourselves,” says Benjamin Breeding, a behavioral health case manager with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “With that in mind, it’s important that we are aware of both the indicators of depression and the ways we can support people who are afflicted by it.”

Here are Benjamin’s recommendations.

1. Look for changes in behavior

One of the most recognizable signs of depression is a sudden change in behavior or interactions with other people. Of course, everyone will experience ups and downs to some degree. But consider the type and degree of change. Has your spouse suddenly stopped watching or talking about the sports that they have always loved? Is your walking buddy no longer chatting about her day like she always did? Has a friend who recently given birth developed symptoms that could be signs of postpartum depression? Or has your usually-relaxed coworker begun to snap at other people over small issues?

2. Notice symptoms

While you’re on the lookout for changes in behavior, watch for noticeable signs of depression, too. Symptoms of people experiencing depression include:

  • Lack of energy
  • Significant changes in appetite
  • Decreased libido
  • Isolation or seclusion
  • Trouble getting motivated to get out of bed or up off the couch
  • Decreased attention to hygiene
  • Changes in sleeping

3. Speak up

It can be very hard to speak up when you notice something is wrong. But while speaking up may cost something, staying silent can cost everything. While most cases of depression don’t get to the point of suicidal ideation, some do. If you reach out to someone who’s struggling and let them know you care about them, that might make all the difference. You can also encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional.

4. Check in

It’s common for some people with depression to withdraw and become isolated. Reinforce that you’re there for them by calling them or stopping by to check on them. In doing so, you’re letting them know someone cares about them. You don’t have to make it all about their depression, either. You could ask them to join you in a pick-up game of basketball, if that’s your thing, or watch a movie. Suggest taking a walk together or invite them to grab a bite to eat. It might give them the opportunity to open up and talk, but if not, it at least lets them know you are thinking about them.

5. Take on a few tasks

Pick up a few of their day-to-day obligations if you can. That’s not to suggest that you should take over their lives or take on all the tasks that are expected of them. But you can do a few things to make their life a little easier. For example, if your spouse is struggling with depression, you could take over the task of cooking dinner. You could drop off some food for your neighbor who is struggling or volunteer to pick up a child after sports practice. Taking care of some mundane tasks may lower their stress levels or free up some time and energy to focus on healing.

6. Have realistic expectations

Depression doesn’t disappear overnight, even with treatment. It can take weeks or months or even longer before your loved one starts to feel better after beginning treatment. Be open to the potential for strategies that may work for them, even if it doesn’t seem like that approach would be helpful for you. That doesn’t mean that you can’t share your concerns, especially if you notice worsening symptoms, but this is their journey.

7. Listen

Sometimes, the best thing that you can do for a loved one in crisis is to listen to them. Listen to their words, their actions, and even their silence. Without even saying anything, you can speak volumes. You can convey to them that you care about them—and that they’re not alone.

8. Don’t ignore your own needs

Caring for someone who has depression can be challenging. It’s hard to watch someone you love struggle. It’s also hard to be a caregiver, should it come to that. You have to acknowledge and respect your own limitations and take care of our own needs, too. Try to keep up with your own hobbies and interests and reach out to people who provide support and comfort to you.

WellTuned: How to check in on your mental heath.

“It can be unsettling, even scary, to see someone you love develop signs of depression,” says Benjamin. “Plus, our society tends to emphasize the value of staying out of someone’s business. But if you come from a true place of caring and compassion—and you can make that clear—you may be able to help your loved one.”

Benjamin Breeding on how summer impacts your mental health.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.