How to help someone in depression

How to Help Someone in Depression

Depression is a deeply personal and often misunderstood mental health condition marked by long-lasting feelings of sadness, hopelessness and a loss of interest in everyday activities. 


At some point in life, most individuals will experience feelings and symptoms of depression. These experiences can vary widely in how strongly people feel their sadness, how long it lasts, and how long they have been struggling. Understanding common signs of depression and knowing how to help can make a big difference for our loved ones. 


Common signs and symptoms of depression


Recognising depression in someone you care about can be a bit like piecing together a puzzle. Everyone’s experience of depression is unique, and the way it shows up can vary widely. However, there are some common signs and symptoms that loved ones might notice:


  • Long periods of low mood: Your loved one seems consistently down.
  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy: Hobbies or activities that once brought your loved one joy no longer hold the same appeal.
  • Increased irritability or defensiveness: Your loved one may become more easily frustrated or snappy.
  • Self-deprecating comments: Your loved one may make negative comments about themselves more often than not.
  • Difficulty focusing: Your loved one may struggle to make decisions or stay focused (sometimes even in conversations).
  • Being physically present but mentally absent: Your loved one is physically there, but it feels like their mind is elsewhere, and they’re less engaged.
  • Desire for company, but lack of sociability: Your loved one may want to be around friends and family, but they may not want to engage and socialise.
  • Constantly feeling tired: Your loved one may struggle to get through the day as they have very little energy. 
  • Workaholic tendencies or a lack of motivation: Your loved one might drown themselves into work, or they might struggle to do any at all. 
  • Eating or sleeping too little, or sometimes too much: Your loved one may sleep in later than usual more frequently and struggle to get out of bed, or they may become a night owl and have insomnia; they may find they have little appetite, or start eating more than they typically would (especially comfort food).

Recognizing these signs early and without judgement, then offering support, can help someone in depression feel less alone and get the care they need.


How to help someone in depression


Before offering assistance, stop to check on your own emotional state. Make sure you’re in a good emotional and mental place and able to provide support. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty glass, so take care of yourself, too. 


When it comes to helping someone in depression, the “Space, Speak, Solve” approach is a valuable guide. It emphasises the importance of creating a safe and supportive environment for your loved one. 


Here’s how you can apply it: 




Offer your loved one both physical and emotional space. Depression can be overwhelming, and they might need moments of solitude to cope. Ensure they’re safe, but also respect their need for privacy. 


Sometimes, just sitting next to someone in depression without talking is the space they need. Other times, they may want to physically withdraw from the company of others while they struggle.




Make sure your loved one knows that, when they’re ready to speak, you are there for them. Inquire about how they’re feeling. Ask if it’s a good day or bad day, and whether they want to talk about it. They may not want to, but when they do speak about their struggles:


  • Offer non-judgmental listening: Allow your loved one to speak without judging what they are sharing. Create a safe environment where they can express their thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism. Often, just having someone who listens can be immensely comforting.
  • Listen actively: Actively listen to what they say. Show genuine interest in understanding their perspective. This not only helps them feel valued but also aids in building trust.
  • Educate yourself: Take the time to educate yourself about depression. Learn about its common symptoms and available treatment options. This knowledge will enable you to communicate more effectively and provide informed support.
  • Have patience: Understand that recovery from depression can be a slow and unpredictable process. Be patient and offer consistent support, even when your loved one appears to be doing better.



If your loved one expresses a need for assistance in finding solutions to their struggles, be willing to help within your means. Whether it’s assisting with tasks, finding professional resources, or just being there as a listening ear, offer your support. Your presence alone can be a source of comfort. 


Supporting them in finding solutions may look like:


  • Finding professional support: If their depression is severe, or they’re showing signs of self-destructive behaviour, it’s essential to encourage them to seek professional mental health care. You can help them research and find a therapist, counsellor, or psychiatrist who specialises in depression. Offer to assist with making appointments and provide emotional support during this process.
  • Accompanying them to appointments: Offer to accompany your loved one to therapy or medical appointments, if they’re comfortable with it. For some people, having someone with them can reduce anxiety and make seeking professional help less daunting.

While offering support is essential, remember to set boundaries to protect your own mental health. It’s okay to prioritise your well-being and take breaks when needed. It is also okay to become irritated, frustrated, resentful, or disappointed with your loved one’s behaviour, even when you know depression is driving it. Show the same compassion for yourself that you’re showing for them.


Supporting yourself while helping someone in depression


When you’re helping a loved one with depression, it’s important to remember that taking care of yourself is not selfish; it’s necessary. Supporting someone through tough times can be emotionally draining. To be the best support for your loved one, you also need to look after yourself.


Here are some practices that may help:


Setting realistic expectations: Understand that you cannot “fix” your loved one’s depression. Nor is it realistic to expect an overnight effect from treatments like therapy, whether digital or in-person, or medication. By managing your own expectations, you avoid putting undue pressure on yourself as well as enable yourself to have more patience and empathy for your struggling loved one.


Setting boundaries: Boundaries are limits you set on how you can help and how often. They help you balance your own needs with your loved one’s. It’s perfectly okay to say no when necessary.


Educating yourself continuously: Keep learning about depression, its treatment, and how best to support your loved one. Knowledge empowers you to be a more effective supporter.


Practising self-compassion: Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you offer your loved one. Avoid self-blame and acknowledge that your feelings matter too. 


Taking breaks:  Occasionally, take breaks to recharge and focus on your own well-being. Stepping away for a while is not selfish; it helps you be more effective when you return. 


Depression is complex – there’s no single way to experience it. Therefore, how we help someone in depression varies. But whether they’re experiencing a temporary phase or long-term issue, supporting someone in depression starts with avoiding judgement, offering empathy, and staying informed. 


Consistent support and commitment can instill a sense of optimism and resilience in someone as they navigate the challenges of depression, ultimately helping them on the road to a brighter and healthier future.


When to encourage professional help for your loved one


Seeking help for depression doesn’t require a specific set of reasons. There’s no need to say, “I’ll seek help if this happens.” Help can be sought anytime, regardless of whether specific conditions are met. Depression is a complex and challenging experience, and reaching out for support is encouraged whenever it feels necessary or right. 


Professional help in the form of a psychologist can always be beneficial for someone in depression.

Therapy, whether digital or in-person, can help them develop skills to better manage their negative thoughts and feelings. 


Professional help becomes a necessity when your loved one experiences:

  • suicidal thoughts or self-harm behaviours
  • severe weight loss or gain
  • prolonged isolation
  • difficulty performing daily tasks 
  • difficulty managing daily responsibilities

If you observe these signs in your loved ones, please intervene and encourage professional mental health support. These symptoms signal a version of depression that is a serious medical condition, and timely intervention can make a significant difference in recovery.



Read more on depression:


Raksha Rajesh (M.Sc., M.Phil., CRR No. A80195) is a clinical psychologist licensed by the Rehabilitation Council of India (RCI). She has 5+ years of experience in helping people from diverse backgrounds build skills to understand and manage their emotions.

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