Health And Wellness

6 Critical Questions To Ask When The Person You Love Has Depression

Photo: Velimir Zeland / Shutterstock
couple in foggy weather

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 anyone else?

RELATED: People With Depression Are Sharing Videos Of What It Can Look Like To Outsiders & It Is Not What Most Would Expect

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

It’s possible this person doesn’t even know they're depressed. They may need help because they haven’t yet recognized the disturbing changes in their 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, and you can come to a decision together about what to do next.

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 to be a man, you should be able to "handle it," so going about this carefully when the person you are worried about is a man is especially important.

Here are 6 critical questions to ask when the person you love has 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?

RELATED: A Therapist Shares 10 Things To Do At The First Twinge Of Depression

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 begins with a precipitating event, and then never seems to heal.

Asking someone how long they've felt sad may help 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 their sadness may be the validation he needs to seek professional help.

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

It's a 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 to end the pain. This doesn’t mean they will, but it does mean 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 want to die, they just wanted the emotional pain to stop.

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 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 are willing to accept your assistance.

RELATED: Living With Depression And Anxiety May Be As Dangerous As This Bad Habit

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.

Photo: Mental Health America (MHA)/Pexels

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 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 in 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 every day, 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 behavior change, 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. Some professionals can support you in dealing with such an uncomfortable and sometimes scary situation.

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.

If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

RELATED: How To Tell Which Of The 4 Types Of Depression You Have

Susan Saint-Welch, LMFT is a marriage and family psychotherapist who has been practicing in-person and online for over 20 years. She helps radiant, single men and women get unstuck and find the lasting love they deserve.