How to Help Someone Suffering from Depression or Anxiety

By Louisa Rogers

If you have a friend or a loved one who suffers from depression or its cousin, anxiety, you are not alone. Depression affects people of all ages, races, and economic levels.

Working your way through.
Depression and anxiety don’t exist in a vacuum; they deeply influence the lives of friends and family. However, it’s not easy to support someone when you have no personal experience of their illness.

When the struggles your friend or family member face are very intense, you may end up feeling useless. Don’t give up! They need you, and you can help. Here are some ways you can make a positive difference in their lives.

Be aware of a tendency to trivialize the disease.
It is easy to underestimate depression and anxiety. Going through a low spell or feeling the blues is not the same as experiencing the disease of depression; but, those of us who have not experienced the illness can confuse the two. We may assume our friend or family member is exaggerating.

Sometimes the person suffering contributes to our denial. Out of shame or guilt, they may not admit the depth of their feelings. Although attitudes are changing, mental illness in our culture was once labeled a moral defect and still carries a stigma of weakness.

Educate yourself.
Learn everything you can about the particular disease from which your friend or family member suffers. Find out about symptoms.

Signs of depression can include persistent fatigue, withdrawal, sadness, tearfulness, difficulty concentrating, and changes in sleeping or eating habits.

Provide emotional support, not advice.
What a suffering person needs most is compassion and listening. What they often receive, though, is advice!

Be willing to discuss the disease…or not.
Sometimes people want to talk about their illness. Don’t avoid the subject, but don’t put pressure on them, either. They may be sick of thinking about it.

When you feel critical and judgmental, take a break.
Neither depression nor anxiety look pretty.

It isn’t helpful to tell ourselves, “Don’t judge,” because as human beings we do judge, and that’s not likely to change.

It may help to remember that people suffering from depression or anxiety are often very hard on themselves. Hearing their criticisms helped me put my own aside and find the compassion that was also there. It also helps to have someone else to talk to. If you find yourself feeling very critical, it may be a sign you need to step back and take a break.

Connect on their terms.
Some people with high anxiety may be afraid to leave the house, or drive. They can become virtual recluses. You can offer to visit them at home, though that too can be problematic. One friend only allowed my husband and me to see her home. She felt so ashamed of the condition of her house, she didn’t want anyone else to see it.

Offer hope.
Many people with mood disorders find it hard to believe in a future. You can offer hope in whatever form works for them, whether it’s reminding them of their spiritual faith, the love of their children, or anything else that makes them want to go on living.

Take heart.
Your loved one is more than the illness from which he or she suffers. But he or she may forget this. You can be a companion who helps shine a light on moments of sweetness even when their life is very dark.

Excerpt taken from How to Help Someone Suffering from Depression or Anxiety CareNote.