How to Support a Family Member with Depression and Anxiety

Data shows that 9.5% of American adults have some form of depressive disorder, and 18% have an anxiety disorder. Most of those millions have family members, like you, who wonder how to support their loved ones.

You can take many actions to support someone with mental illness. One thing to avoid doing is ignoring the issue. Symptoms will not go away and will likely worsen if not treated. You may wonder how to start a conversation about mental health with a loved one without offending them. The key is to express empathy and caring in whatever you say. 

The more you know about depression and anxiety, the easier it will be to find the right words of support.

Learn More About Depression and Anxiety

No one chooses to have a mental health disorder; it doesn’t go away without specific treatments and lifestyle changes. Depression and anxiety are mood disorders involving neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. The American Psychiatric Association established criteria for all mental health disorders to help professionals diagnose someone correctly.

For depression, five of the following criteria must be present for most of the days in two weeks:

  • Depressed mood for most of the day, almost every day
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Slowing down cognitive or physical functions
  • Feeling tired and loss of energy
  • Feeling hopeless or inappropriately guilty
  • Lack of concentration or unable to make decisions
  • Suicidal ideations or attempts

For anxiety, three of the following criteria must be present for the previous six months:

  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Tired when they should have energy
  • Brain fog or trouble concentrating
  • Agitated or irritable
  • Muscle tension
  • Trouble sleeping

For both depression and anxiety, symptoms interfere with how a person functions at work, home, school, and socially.

Know Uncommon Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Every person has circumstances, biology, and genetics that lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Recognizing signs that may be unique to your family member is essential. Examples of less common symptoms include misusing drugs or alcohol, physical aches and pains, pessimism, or negative self-talk that goes beyond the self-deprecating joke. Also, a decrease in sex drive, skin problems, recalling adverse events, digestive issues, chest pains, cold hands or feet, and excessive yawning.

Some people may tremble or shake, have a racing heart, feel lightheaded or dizzy, have irrational thoughts, and be easily startled. Further, some may experience blood pressure changes, muscle cramps or spasms, lack of hygiene, night sweats, and hair loss.

Many other symptoms could be related to depression and anxiety. Any new and different symptoms than your family member typically appears should be taken seriously.

Encourage Professional Help

People with depression and anxiety often require the help of mental health professionals to reduce symptoms that may be problematic. For many, antidepressant medications help in the first stages of treatment by providing stabilization and a clear mind. This allows a person to focus on learning the skills necessary to cope with mental illness and return to living a healthy, productive life.

Psychiatrists are the only mental health professionals who can prescribe antidepressants. To know which medications are best, they will administer assessments and possibly order lab scans and blood tests. Psychiatrists will want to ensure no other reasons for your symptoms before giving medicine.

Psychologists and therapists are the mental health professionals to see for learning coping skills. Behavioral therapies will teach you to recognize and manage symptoms. Peer and family support is essential to treatment, and therapists may include both in a treatment plan.

To support a family member with depression and anxiety, offer to attend therapy or support groups with them.

Know What to Say

Your words are powerful and can either encourage your family member with depression and anxiety or make them feel worse. Below is a list of things you do not want to say:

  • Calm down
  • Get over it
  • You have so much to be thankful for
  • I’ve felt that way before, and I got over it
  • Stop overthinking
  • Other people have bigger problems

Instead, use positive statements, such as:

  • How can I help?
  • It’s okay to feel this way
  • We will find a way to make it better
  • I am here for you
  • I don’t know what to say or do, but I am here for you
  • Let’s go for a walk
  • Help me understand
  • I love you

Respond to Emergencies

When someone feels depressed or anxious, they may feel overwhelmed and can’t always see that things will get better. If they feel helpless, they may start having suicidal thoughts. If you hear someone talk about wanting to die, wishing their life was over, or anything else that may allude to suicide, take it seriously.

If you can, visit them in person. Offer to take them to talk to a crisis team at the hospital, start an online emergency visit, or call a crisis line. Someone should stay with them until they have received help.

When possible, create an emergency plan before an emergency happens. The emergency plan should include a support network, with each person given a specific task to ensure your family member’s safety.

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is a must if you want to support a family member with depression and anxiety. If your physical or mental health is suffering, you won’t be able to help someone else as well as you could if you were in optimum health. Plus, you can be a great role model, encouraging others to care for themselves.

You can also invite your loved one to join you in self-care activities like meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage, exercise, and creative therapies. Engage them in activities that are fun and serve as a distraction, such as learning a new hobby or attending comedic events. Find local support groups to attend together, showing your loved one they are not alone.

Start showing support today. It will positively impact how they cope with their mental health.