How to Help Someone with Severe Depression

Depression is more than just feeling sad for a few days – it’s an illness that affects people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. If you are concerned about someone in your family who might be experiencing depression, the first thing to do is talk to them about it in a way that feels safe and supportive.

In this article, you will discover how to help someone with severe depression.

How to Help Someone with Severe Depression

Do you know someone who seems tired all the time? Have they been looking more disheveled and like they don’t care about their appearance anymore? Do they avoid activities and events they once enjoyed?

These are just a few signs of severe depression. Other symptoms include having suicidal thoughts, changes in weight without trying to make changes, sleep disturbances, mood swings, lowered self-esteem, or struggling to stay focused on tasks and making decisions.

Severe depression, or major depressive disorder, affects millions of people every year. Here’s how to help someone with severe depression.

Help Them Seek Treatment

Although severe depression can be debilitating, it is treatable with medication, individual therapy, and lifestyle changes. Antidepressants can be temporary or taken for many years. They boost the chemicals in the brain associated with severe depression, like Serotonin and Norepinephrine. Working with a therapist to learn coping skills has been found to boost the effects of medication.

If your friend or loved one shows signs of severe depression and has tried medications and therapy without success, there are advanced treatment options to try. For example, ketamine therapy, administered by a psychiatrist, has been studied for years. Recently it is being implemented in more mental health treatment centers due to its successful outcomes. When combined with psychotherapy, the effects of ketamine are said to last even longer.

Encourage your loved one never to give up seeking the right treatment. Working with the right mental health professionals, a successful treatment plan can be created.

Just Be There

Sometimes, a person with severe depression simply needs you to be there. Even if you aren’t talking or doing anything, just having you nearby can be reassuring. If they do feel like talking, be a good listener. To do this, use language that is caring and accepting. Never tell someone to get over it, suck it up, or you have nothing to be depressed about.

These statements can do more harm than good. Plus, being depressed has nothing to do with all the other things or relationships in a person’s life. It has everything to do with the imbalance of chemicals in the brain.

Take Care of Your Own Mental Health

When helping a loved one with severe depression, you may forget about your own needs. Not meeting your needs can leave you feeling tired, overwhelmed, and depressed. Then, who will be there to take care of you?

It is essential you set healthy boundaries to avoid relationship dependency or problems with your physical or psychological health. Avoid letting your care for someone else interfere with your family relationships or work responsibilities. Work with a counselor on how to set boundaries without making your loved one feel hurt.

Prepare for a Crisis

For your loved one with severe depression, crises can range from having a bad day to feeling suicidal. Don’t wait for a crisis to happen to figure out what to do. Work with a counselor and your loved one to create various crisis plans, one for each potential type of crisis.

Know the warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide or harming themselves
  • Expressing hate for themselves or their life
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Saying goodbyes or giving away personal belongings
  • Seeking out pills, guns, or other weapons
  • Appearing overly calm after a period of depression

A crisis may never happen, or it may happen once a week. Either way, it is better to be prepared to take quick action. Because your loved one is involved in the planning, they will know what to expect and won’t encounter any surprises that could make the situation worse.

Crisis plans should include everyone on your friend’s treatment team, as well as family, friends, pastors, and others who can provide support.

Connect Them with a Social Worker

If your loved one is working with a mental health therapist, they can be referred for case management services through the mental health center. If not, you can help them reach out to a social worker or county caseworker. They are professionals who support someone with severe depression access community resources to improve their health. 

A few examples of resources available include the following:

  • Medical professionals
  • Mental health professionals
  • Vocational counselors
  • Community support groups
  • Pharmacy visits
  • Educational counselors

Helping someone be successful in other areas of their life may help ease their depressive symptoms.

Know When to Pitch In (and when not to pitch in)

Because you want to help your loved one with severe depression, you may go out of your way to lighten their daily load of responsibilities. Cleaning, cooking, shopping, and running errands are a few of the ways you can help. However, it’s essential you know the difference between helping and enabling.

Enabling is often done by the most caring people, like you. You mean well, but by helping your loved one, you encourage their mental health dysfunction to continue. You get to do all the work while they do nothing to improve their situation. Enabling leads to negative consequences for your loved one, you, and your relationship.

Instead, choose to help behaviors when your loved one is making progress in their mental health recovery. For example, if they have a therapy appointment while they are supposed to pick up their child from school, you can offer to pick up their child.  This allows them to take part in improving themselves.

Enabling behaviors include:

  • Denying your loved one has severe depression.
  • Avoiding dealing with their severe depression.
  • Protecting your loved ones from consequences caused by their depression.
  • Making excuses or covering for your loved one.
  • Feeling resentful towards the person with severe depression.
  • Providing financial assistance or other help that allows them to remain severely depressed.
  • Neglecting your own needs to care for them.
  • Taking over the responsibilities of your loved one with depression.

Helping someone with severe depression is best done when you are healthy physically and psychologically. You can be a role model for improving mental health.