Helping a loved one who's suffering from depression can be a difficult and emotional process. Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz, author of Anatomy of a Secret Life: Are the People in Your Life Hiding Something You Should Know, offers expert advice on how you can best help a friend or relative out of the darkness.
Acknowledge that depression is an illness.
Depression can bring feelings of denial and shame in those who are suffering, so it's important to realize that your loved one can't just "snap out of it." Dr. Saltz says the first step is to realize that depression is a medical condition. "In fact, more than half of this country still believes that depression is due to personal weakness as opposed to understanding that it's an illness," Dr. Saltz says. "Treat the illness, and they can be like anyone else."
Realize that isolation is often a symptom of depression.
If you've noticed a friend or relative has stopped going out or communicating with others, this may be a sign of depression. Make yourself a regular presence in that person's life. "Part of the disease is not wanting to talk or go out," Dr. Saltz says.
Don't let a loved one isolate him or herself, Dr. Saltz says. "Push them. Say, 'I know you don't want to, but I'm not taking no for an answer. We haven't talked in awhile. I'm coming over,'" she says. "They need connection. If you're busy being polite, it won't go well."
Face-to-face conversations are ideal, Dr. Saltz says, because depressed people aren't usually very verbal. But if you are in a long-distance situation where you can't be face-to-face with that person, Dr. Saltz says to make regular phone calls. "Be persistent," she says.
Don't distance yourself from a depressed loved one.
It can be hard to be around a loved one who is depressed, but Dr. Saltz urges people to remain present in that person's life. "Most people's reaction—it isn't conscious—is to pull away, get away," Dr. Saltz says. If this is your reaction, it doesn't mean you are a bad person.
Dr. Saltz says loved ones of depressed people are sometimes afraid that if they identify with that person, they will also get pulled into the darkness. "Know that you can talk to them without feeling what they feel," she says. "You can do a great service by reaching out. You don't have to imagine what it feels like."
Recognize your own limitations and feelings.
Helping someone who is depressed isn't always easy, so don't be afraid to accept your own feelings. "Recognize you might get angry with them because it seems like they aren't trying," Dr. Saltz says. "It's important to recognize you can help but you can't make someone have treatment. You can't necessarily feel like you are responsible for them."