6 Questions To Ask When The Person You Love Has Depression

Photo: Unsplash: Allan Filipe Santos Dias
6 Questions To Ask The Person You Love When They Suffer From Clinical Depression

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which makes this an especially good time to talk about mental illness in the context of dating, relationships, and marriage. When the person you love is deeply depressed, knowing which questions to ask can be the starting point for making critical, positive changes for the sake of you both.

Seeing your child, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, significant other or anyone else you love suffer from a mental health condition like depression is gut-wrenching at best.

You’re not a doctor. So how can you help? What if they don’t want help, from you or from anyone else?

The good news is that you can help them, regardless.

It’s possible this person doesn’t even know they're depressed.  need help because they haven’t yet recognized the disturbing changes in their own behavior. You can open the lines of communication 

Once you determine the extent of their depression, you'll be able to offer your support in a way they can accept it, and you can come to a decision together about what to do next.


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


Before I go further, check this list of some common signs of depression to see if they ring true.

  • Decrease in frequency or level of happiness

  • Inability or lack of desire to go out and socialize, and instead wanting to just stay home
  • Increase in angry outbursts

  • Drinking alcohol more and enjoying it less

  • Either a decrease in appetite or an increase in over-eating

Men struggle with asking for help more than women do, as society sends the message that in order to be a man, you should be able to "handle it," so going about this carefully when the person you are worried about it a man is especially important.

To help you open up this difficult conversation, here are 6 questions to ask when the person you love is suffering from depression.

1. You seem sad. Do you feel depressed?

Sometimes people don’t recognize their emotional state has changed, and some people do. Either way, bringing it up may help your loved one begin coming to terms with feeling depressed.

You can let him know that everyone feels sad from time to time, that it’s okay if he is feeling low, and that if he feels like this depression is lingering, he may need to seek professional help, even if only on a short-term basis.

Let him know you feel strongly that there is no shame in getting medical care. He’d get help if he couldn’t stop bleeding, right?

2. How long have you felt this way?

It’s important to know the difference between going through a difficult time and experiencing ongoing depression.

Sometimes an event happens, time marches on, and the situational depression soon disappears, whereas in other cases, depression comes on slowly over time or begin with a precipitating event, and then never seems to heal.

Asking someone how long they've felt sad may helps him to realize that this may not go away on its own. If it came on slowly, he may not have noticed some of the changes that others who are close to him can see. Realizing that others can see the sadness may be the validation he needs in order to seek professional help.

3. Do you believe that things can get better for you?

It's huge red flag when your loved one says they don't believe things will improve or that anything will change for the better. Feeling hopeless is a significant sign of a deeper, perhaps clinical depression.

When someone truly feels hopeless, they are more likely to want to harm themselves in order to end the pain. This doesn’t mean they will, but it does means that at the very least, he may not be in the mindset to begin seeking help.

Often, when someone tries to harm themselves and is unsuccessful in doing so, they will report that they didn’t really want to die, they just wanted the emotional pain to stop.


RELATED: 5 Signs That Your Spouse May Be Contemplating Suicide


4. Are you willing to get help from a professional?

Seeking help from a mental health professional is much more socially accepted now than it was many years ago, and there is significantly less stigma around mental illness today.

Mental health professionals can help significantly shorten a temporary depression, and professional help is almost always needed in order to effectively treat ongoing depression.

If the person you love isn't sure how to do this, you can help them locate a therapist, and you may even want to offer to accompany them to their first appointment if they're is willing to accept your assistance.

5. What can I do to support you?

It is often difficult to know how to help someone you love when they're  in pain. By asking how you can help, you show that you care about them and their well-being.

It's very common for people to struggle with asking for help in all kinds of situations, and depression is an especially difficult subject for many to take on alone.

If they can't think of specific ways for you to be supportive, you can offer your own suggestions, especially if you know them well. 

6. Do you ever feel like you would hurt yourself or someone else?

They may get annoyed with this one and say that you're being dramatic, but inside they'll know this means you are seriously concerned about their well-being.

What if the person in question is a teen?

Men and teenage boys are statistically more likely to attempt suicide, whereas teenage girls are more likely than boys to self-harm through methods like cutting.

Depression can be especially serious with teens, because the brain is not fully developed until about the age of 25.

If you are the parent of a depressed teen you need to pay close attention to their mood. Teens go up and down emotionally everyday, so you are looking for signs of change in different ways and over time.

For example, you may notice your child missing school when they weren’t doing that before, withdrawing from friends, or experiencing an otherwise unexplained drop in grades. Again, you want to notice this over time.

If you do see a dramatic change in behavior, it’s important to ask the same questions listed above. If your child isn't responsive to this inquiry, you may need to seek professional guidance to determine the best way to help him.

Teenagers are notoriously impulsive, and it's more difficult for them to see how a situation happening now will ever be better. Good communication and a strong relationship are your best tools. When you combine these two things, you are most likely to be able to have an open conversation during which your child will talk with you about what is going on.

It is difficult to know how to help someone you care about at all times, but you don’t have to tackle this alone. There are professionals who can support you in dealing with such an uncomfortable and sometimes scary situation.

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

They offer free and confidential support are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to answer your questions and guide you in dealing with someone who is seriously depressed.

Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t feel you know what to say or do.

Remember, these things are not taught in school, so how are you to know what to do? All you can do is to demonstrate that you care about the person. That speaks volumes!


RELATED: 10 Agonizing Truths Depressed People Never Talk About


Susan Saint-Welch, LMFT, is a marriage and family psychotherapist who has been practicing in-person and online in California for over 20 years, helping radiant, single women get un-stuck and find the lasting love they deserve. She is passionate about teaching skills and concepts for healthier relationships, dating and self-esteem. For more, follow her on her website.