A Shoulder to Cry On: How to Aid Others with Depression

Few things can make you feel as helpless as watching someone you care about suffer. You want to offer your personal assistance, in an effort to ease their unhappiness, many times as part of a wider circle of support.The need for the care and presence of your loved ones is particularly significant in cases of major depressive disorder (or MDD for short). Several suggestions offer insight into how to help someone with depression. Read on to find out what they are.

Listen to Your Loved One

Before you do anything else, it is imperative that you listen to those you want to assist. Tell them you are concerned for them, let them know you care, and then let them speak. Look for empathy and understanding within yourself as you try to relate to their struggles. Remember their independence, agency, and autonomy of their own body and well-being. Keep in mind that though they may be hurting, they are facing their (possible) depression from their own perspective and not your own. 

This is their story, to experience and hopefully to overcome. Ask questions that might help you understand what they are going through and be mindful of their boundaries as well as their need for support. Address acute stressors in their lives and try to help them better cope with them.

Depression can be extremely demoralizing and hard to contend with, inducing bouts of frustration, desperation, and a wish to give up on life. Try to be patient with those who are experiencing all of these symptoms and support their progression at their own pace. Make it a point to remain a stable source of compassion and friendship when possible, in an effort to solidify their ability to rely on others for support.

Know the Facts

Depression is one of the most widely discussed and researched mental health conditions throughout history. And as our knowledge of this condition becomes deeper and more advanced, our ability to ease the experienced adversity of those contending with it grows. As such, supporting a loved one battling depression can include helping them become more educated about the symptoms they face and the ways in which they can treat their condition.

When it comes to depression, it is important to remember that its symptoms include more than low mood (though decreased mood does make up the central feature of this disorder). A friend battling depression might become more irritable, forgetful, neglect their appearance or hygiene habits, have difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and even experience decreased motor control. Considering these and other possible symptoms—while consulting with a licensed mental health professional—can help a loved one acknowledge they are experiencing a mental health disorder.

Another point to consider is the distinction and possible convergence with mental health states such as sadness, mourning and anxiety, which hold certain similarities to depression. 

  • Sadness can be described as an emotional pain associated with a lower mood and energy than the individual is used to experiencing. While sadness is considered a normative part of life that arises from time to time, the anguish experienced during depression is both more severe and longer lasting than sadness. Therefore, depression is seen as a serious mental health disorder.
  • Mourning is also seen as a normative part of life. Due to the deep pain it usually induces, it is considered the closest mental health experience to the pain of depression. The two, however, are believed to differ in several key features: 
    • First, while mourning involves feeling intense sorrow over the conscious loss of a loved one (or relationship or even an idea), depression causes individuals to often feel a similar sense of loss without being conscious of what it is they have lost. As such, someone who has gone through a painful breakup may find themselves experiencing symptoms of depression over the loss of the unconscious fantasy they had attached to that relationship, which they had believed might last a lifetime. 
    • Second, while for those in mourning the world around them may become a dark and joyless place, individuals experiencing depression are first and foremost critical of themselves, as they carry negative beliefs about their own inability to experience happiness.
    • Third, mourning is more likely to incorporate the use of positive and beneficial coping mechanisms, such as humor, while depression is more likely to grow into an all-encompassing detrimental experience.
  • Anxiety and depression are considered the two central themes in the world of mental health, and are prominently featured as parts of most disorder definitions. Both anxiety and depression are extremely unpleasant responses to the unpredictability and instability of life. But while anxiety is seen as an overactive survival mechanism triggered by a perceived sense of danger, depression is seen as the departure from our will to survive. Instead, it anchors the individual experiencing it in their own feelings of inadequacy, moroseness, and lack of energy. This leads to a depletion of their mental reserves and hinders their ability to return to their normal level of functioning. 

Due to the common features between depression and the above emotional states, in addition to the possibility of it existing alongside them, depression can be a somewhat elusive mental health disorder to uncover. For this reason, arming yourself and your loved one with crucial knowledge of this condition can help them recognize if they are facing depression, leading to a discussion regarding treatment options.

Help Them Choose and Stick with a Treatment Course

Recognizing that a loved one is battling depression can help them eventually discuss treatment options, which is another point where they might need your help and advice. This is why, in addition to learning about major depression, it is important to make sure they are aware of the different available treatment options.

The FDA has recognized three types of treatments for their ability to provide depression symptom relief safely and effectively. They are psychodynamic therapy, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors medication (SSRIs) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (also known as TMS):

  • Psychodynamics are a form of therapy that has been FDA-approved to treat depression. During this treatment, the patient and therapist examine the patient’s past, their central formative relationship, their sense of self-worth, and other important parts of their personality and experiences. Together, they work to acknowledge the factors that may have contributed to the development and persistence of the patient’s depression, through a gradual process of introspection and self-discovery. 
  • SSRIs are a second-generation family of antidepressants that extends the activation period of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. An FDA-approved effective mood elevator, serotonin is kept active by stopping its reabsorption into the neuron that had originally released it. SSRIs have been shown to relieve the symptoms of depression as well as anxiety-based disorders, making them a popular medication option for a variety of mental health issues. In addition to their efficacy, SSRIs have also been shown to cause less severe side effects than first-generation antidepressants or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which were more commonly used before the introduction of SSRIs during the 1980s. That said, some patients do find SSRI side effects to be too adverse to continue with this treatment, with the two most common side effects being weight gain and sexual dysfunction.
  • TMS is an FDA-cleared non-invasive medical device treatment that utilizes pulses of electromagnetic fields to regulate the neural activity of brain structures found to be associated with symptoms of depression. It does not require the use of anesthesia, does not cause any significant or long-lasting side effects, and can be incorporated into the patient’s everyday routine. At present, there are two forms of TMS available on the market: traditional TMS and Deep TMS.
    • Traditional TMS relies on a handheld figure 8-shaped device. Due to this apparatus, targeting issues sometimes arise during traditional TMS treatments, with the handheld device occasionally failing to focus its electromagnetic pulses at the sought after brain structure.
    • Deep TMS is an advancement of traditional TMS. Developed to include its own patented H-Coil technology that is held inside a cushioned helmet, Deep TMS is able to reach wider swaths of the brain simultaneously. This help to avoid the same targeting issues presented by traditional TMS. Its unique apparatus and technology also manage to directly regulate structures located in deeper regions of the brain, while keeping its electromagnetic pulses at a safe and effective level of activation.

Remember to Care for Yourself

In addition to listening to the individual you want to help, educating you and them, and helping them decide and stick to a treatment course, it is important to remember to also care for yourself: remember to consider how much support you can give them, and not put aside your personal needs and boundaries. This not only helps you stay aware of your own limitations, but also maintains your ability to provide your loved one with support for a longer period of time, and in a more consistent manner.