How To Tell The Person You Love You Think They Need Help With Depression

Photo: Unsplash: Toa Heftiba
How To Help Someone You Love With Depression: Questions To Ask & What To Say To Show Your Support

There are few things as painful as watching someone you love struggle with signs of depression while not knowing how to even begin talking to them about your concerns, let alone ask how to help or offer your support for fear you'll only make things worse.

You see them everyday, trying to push away feelings of hopelessness and despair that may go so far as to lead them into suicidal depression, in which they can't seem to shake the belief that they are worthless and that their life is not worth living.

To make things all the more difficult, talking to someone even as close to you as your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife or significant other about mental health issues tends to be fraught with their feelings of defensiveness given the tragic degree of mental illness stigma in today's society.

Unlike sadness, which is defined as “a natural reaction to situations that cause emotional upset or pain, depression is a longer-term mental illness [that] impairs social, occupational, and other important areas of functioning. Left untreated, symptoms of depression may last for a long time.”


RELATED: Signs Your Depression Is Getting More Serious (And It's Time To Reach Out)


If you love someone who fits the description above and want to help them but don't know where to start, there are steps you can take to make things easier, but first, there is one critical thing you need to remember if you choose to you go down this path.

Someone dealing with depression will only seek help if they believe they are depressed, and even then, only if they want and are ready to receive help from others.

If someone's mother or boyfriend or sister tells them seem depressed, they might listen, but they won’t act on it until they themselves believe they need help and want to receive it.

It's essential you understand this before you try talking to the person you care about, because you must know and accept that you are not able to fix them. They are the only one who can do that for themselves.

With that being said, here's how you can tell the person you love you think they need help with depression in a way they're mostly likely to hear you out.

1. Plant the seed

The first step to telling someone you love that they need help with depression is to plant the seed. Let them know, in a loving way, that you have seen changes in them that might need addressing.

To do this, you have to ask questions that will make them think about what you are seeing.

Ask questions such as these:

  • "I notice that you seem down a lot these days. What’s going on?"
  • "I've never seen you cry so much. Has something happened?"
  • "I noticed that you haven’t taken a shower/made your bed/gone out with your friends for a while now. Are you feeling okay?"
  • "You've been spending a lot of time in your room recently. That seems unusual for you. Is something going on?"

Chances are, if you ask any of those questions you will get a noncommittal answer such as, "I'm fine" or, "I'm just tired."

While those answers might frustrate you, know that you are planting a seed. You are pointing out to them that their recent behaviors have been different, which is something they may or may not realize.

Many people with depression have no idea they are depressed, and it’s only once someone points it out to them that they start to take notice.

So tell your loved one about the behaviors you have been seeing. Hopefully that will help them see the same.

2. Let them know you're there for them no matter what

Once you have brought their attention to the signs that they may be depressed, it's essential that you let your loved one know you are always there for them and always will be. They need to know that there is someone in their corner who is paying attention, and who will love them no matter what.

They also need to know that you, as their advocate, will not judge them for anything and that you will not try to fix them.

Be that person for your loved one and let them know it!


RELATED: 8 Subtle, Often Ignored Signs You're Actually Depressed


3. Wait

This may be the hardest thing for you to do, but it’s a key part of the process.

You've planted the seed and told your loved one that you will be there for them no matter what. Now, you must step back and see what grows from your actions.

Again, your loved one is going to have to see their depression themselves if they are going to take action, so give them the space they need to do that. Hopefully, they will take action right away, but they might not.

In the meantime, you can try identifying the type of depression you think your loved one may have.

While there are several forms of depression — including major depression (or major depressive disorder), persistent depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), psychotic depression, peripartum (postpartum) depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), 'situational' depression, and atypical depression — you'll be looking for distinctions between situational and clinical depression only. (A psychiatrist can and should be the one to handle the finer points.)

Situational depression is defined as "a short-term, stress-related type of depression [that] can develop after you experience a traumatic event or series of events ... Events that can cause situational depression include: problems at work or school, illness, death of a loved one, moving, [and] relationship problems."

Clinical depression is explained as "the more-severe form of depression, also known as major depression or major depressive disorder. It isn't the same as depression caused by a loss, such as the death of a loved one, or a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder."

Once you have identified what kind of depression you think your loved one might be suffering from, you can move on to the next step.

4. Present the facts as you see them

If you think your loved one is suffering from a situational depression caused by something that happened recently, now is the time to kindly point that out to them.

Try starting the conversation with something like, "Divorce sucks. And your life seems pretty miserable right now. Perhaps you need some help dealing with it. What can I do?"

If you think your loved one is suffering from a clinical, chronic form of depression, you can open with something more like this: "I remember you telling me that your mother was often sad. Do you feel like she did right now?"

The main point is to ask probing questions that might guide your loved one to consider their situation more closely so you can help them recognize the need for help, but remember, again, that it is only when they are ready to ask for help that they will they do so, and it is only then that any treatment method will work.

5. Be ready when they are

If your loved one still isn’t ready to accept that their need for help, try not to feel discouraged.

Ask these questions, tell them you love them, step away, and repeat as necessary.

And through all of it, remain aware that they are autonomous agents and respect their right to their own feelings.

Above all, be patient.

It's essential that when your loved one is ready to seek help you know what to do and that you are equipped to help them take those first steps.

The best first step to dealing with depression is to ask your primary care physician for a referral to a psychiatrist. They are trained to identify and treat different kinds of depression and will have the resources at hand to get your loved one the help that they need.

So do your research and be ready to act once your loved one is willing to admit that they need help.

Seeing someone close to you suffer from depression is incredibly painful and something you understandably want to fix right away, just as you would if they had a cold or a broken leg.

Unfortunately, dealing with depression isn’t usually that easy. It’s not something that shows up on a blood test or an x-ray, and many people still believe that admitting they have depression is the same thing as an admission of weakness, so they are reluctant to do talk about it with even those they feel closest to.

Depression IS treatable, and with your support, patience and understanding, there is every reason to believe you will be able to help your loved one get the support and treatment that they need.

Best of luck to you. I know you can do it!!!

If you are truly concerned someone may harm themselves or others, seek professional guidance right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


RELATED: 6 Questions To Ask When The Person You Love Has Depression


Mitzi Bockmann is a NYC based Certified Life Coach and mental health advocate. Her writing has been published in The Huffington Post, Prevention Magazine, and The Good Man Project, among others. She works exclusively with women to help them to be all that they want to be in this crazy world in which we live. Contact her on her website or via email to get started!