Helping a loved one with depression can be challenging. Understanding the symptoms of depression and identifying warning signs of worsening depression are key factors in helping someone deal with depression.

When a person has a family member or friend with depression, a common question is, “How do you help someone with depression?” When a loved one is struggling with depression, it is easy to feel helpless, but it is possible to provide support. Family members and friends can play essential roles in a person’s recovery from depression.

Learn the Symptoms of Depression

Understanding the symptoms of depression is the first step in helping someone who lives with this condition. Depression is more than feeling sad.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • Changes in sleep (either sleeping excessively or not sleeping enough)
  • Changes in eating habits (either overeating or not eating enough)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of energy or fatigue
  • Lack of interest in activities that were once meaningful
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling helpless
  • Feeling guilty for no substantial reason
  • Reduced physical activity
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Thoughts of being better off dead
  • Thoughts of hurting oneself
  • Self-isolation

In addition to understanding symptoms, it is important to realize that depression is a medical condition, not a personal weakness.

Identify Warning Signs of Worsening Depression

Early warning signs of depression are often identifiable before a person experiences a full depressive episode. Recognizing these warning signs may help prevent a full depressive episode or at least reduce the intensity of the episode. Every person has different early warning signs; discussing past episodes can help identify these signs.

Some common signs of worsening depression include:

  • Changes in sleeping
  • Feeling fatigued or tired
  • Avoiding social activities
  • Increased irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

Dealing With a Person Who Has Depression

A key aspect of helping a loved one learn how to deal with depression is communication. Honest and open communication is important. Avoid being judgmental and remember that depression is a medical condition, not a choice

It may seem helpful to encourage a person to try to be happy, but this type of statement implies that depression is a choice.  It seems absurd to tell someone with cancer to try not to have cancer, but this type of sentiment is often communicated to people with mental health conditions.

Other types of statements to avoid include:

  • “What’s wrong with you?”
  • “What do you have to be depressed about?”
  • “You have so much going for you, how can you be depressed?”
  • “Just look at the bright side.”
  • “Everyone feels like this sometimes, just deal with it.”
  • “It’s in your head.”
  • “Just snap yourself out of this mindset.”
  • “Why aren’t you over this yet?”

Remind the person with depression that they are loved and offer your support. To start a helpful conversation about depression, you can say:

  • “You have seemed pretty down lately. I wanted to check in with you and make sure you are okay.”
  • “I have noticed you seem down and was wondering how you are doing.”
  • “I’ve seen some changes in you and am feeling concerned.”

While discussing a loved one’s depression, remain supportive and encouraging. It may be helpful to offer specific assistance. For example, if a person struggles to feel motivated to clean their home when depressed, offering a few hours to help with cleaning may be very helpful.

To understand how you can be helpful, you can ask:

  • “How I can I best help you?”
  • “Is there anything you have been having difficulty with that I can help you complete?”
  • “Is there anything I can take off your plate?”
  • “What would be most helpful for you?”

Depression can cause a person to feel isolated. Reminding the person that you are there for them can encourage them to reach out for help. When asking a person with depression how they are feeling, listen to what they say and withhold judgment. Feeling understood can be a great relief to a person with depression.

Some supportive statements include:

  • “You are not alone. I am here to listen.”
  • “I may not be able to know exactly how you are feeling, but I am here for you no matter what.”
  • “Help me understand how you are feeling.”
  • “I care about you and want to be here for you.”
  • “You are important to me.”
  • “I want to help you work through this.”

Finding Treatment for Depression

If a loved one with depression is in a crisis, it is important to react calmly. You can respond with mental health first aid for depression. If there is a reason to believe that a loved one may be at risk for suicide, do not leave them alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available for assistance in these types of situations. You can call their helpline at any time.

If a person is not in crisis, remain calm while assisting them in finding appropriate depression treatment. Treatment for anxiety and depression is very effective and available in most communities.

Some ways to help a loved one seek treatment for depression include:

  • Offering to help find a counselor or doctor by making calls or looking up providers
  • Offering to go with the person to appointments
  • Helping them make a list of symptoms that can be discussed with the doctor or counselor

It is common for people struggling with depression to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. If someone you love has a co-occurring alcohol or drug use issue, it is vital that both conditions be treated concurrently. Help for co-occurring depression and substance use is available at rehab centers across the country.

The Recovery Village offers comprehensive treatment for substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions like depression. For more information about our care options, reach out to a representative today by calling  855.652.8474.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Depression.” August 2017. Accessed May 8, 2019.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Depression: What You Need To Know.” (n.d.) Accessed May 8, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.