How To Help Someone Who Is Depressed: Spotting Signs Of Depression

Meta-description: Depression can be hard to spot, even if someone is suffering immensely, you might not even be able to notice. Click through to find out how to identify and help someone with depression.

Because of the way mental health issues are stigmatized, many people choose to suffer in silence and leave their mental health issues untreated. As a result, it can be all too easy to miss the signs when a friend, family member, or other loved one is struggling with their mental health. Luckily, there are ways to spot even the most subtle signs of depression.

In this overview, we cover all the essential information about helping a loved one who lives with depression. Read on to learn how to spot signs of depression in the people around you – we also share tips on the do’s and don’ts when helping someone who suffers from depression.

The Dangers Of Depression

Depression comes in many different shapes and sizes, however, it’s usually characterized by persistent thoughts of hopelessness, guilt, and a profound sense of self-loathing. Individuals struggling with depression may also lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, struggle with cognitive tasks and long-term memory retention, and become much more irritable in their daily life.

To make matters worse, people that battle with depression tend to neglect their mental and physical health. That means they might struggle with basic maintenance tasks like eating properly and getting enough sleep, which can have severe health consequences if left unchecked. Furthermore, sleeplessness and improper nutrition can exacerbate the already-serious symptoms of depression.

Unfortunately, most people with depressive disorders tend to isolate themselves from friends and family, making it harder for them to receive treatment. In some cases, they may even actively push people away because they feel ashamed of their illness or think others don’t want them around.

Spotting Mental Warning Signs In A Loved One

Since a depressive disorder is typically accompanied by periods of isolation, it can be challenging to spot the symptoms of mental health issues in your friends and family. Here are some possible warning signs that a person is experiencing depressive symptoms:

  • Changes in demeanor: When interacting with a friend or family member, you may feel that they’re not their “usual self”. A chatty friend may become withdrawn, or a person who’s typically in control of their emotions may become highly irritable.
  • Erratic eating habits: While changes in eating habits can happen for other reasons, significant weight loss (about 5% of their total weight within a month) or gain may be signs of an underlying mental health issue. Symptoms of depression can cause someone to either lose their appetite entirely or binge eat.
  • Extreme fatigue and irritability: Depression tends to cause sleeping issues, which can lead to the person looking very tired and acting sluggish. And since fatigue often leads to back and muscle pain, it can also make the person more irritable than usual.
  • Substance abuse issues: Using and abusing drugs or drinking alcohol can be a dangerous way to cope with depression, yet it’s extremely common. If you think a friend or family member has a substance abuse problem, it may be a good idea to check in.

How To Help Someone With Depression

Mayo Clinic recommends encouraging a depressed loved one to seek treatment from a mental healthcare professional. However, this is much easier said than done, especially if the affected person hasn’t opened up to you yet.

To help you communicate with a depressed person better, here are four tips you can follow.

Communicate Assertively And Openly

Discussing depression can make many people uncomfortable, but it’s essential that you approach the topic with an open mind and without judgment. By communicating openly but compassionately about your concerns, you can prevent your depressed loved one from going on the defensive.

That’s why we recommend voicing your concerns based on what you’ve seen, without blaming or pointing fingers. Instead of saying, “You haven’t been yourself lately”, say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been feeling down.” This shows that you care about their well-being more than anything else.

Show Empathy And Be Non-Judgmental

Since depression is a sensitive issue, we recommend putting yourself in their shoes for a moment. That means reserving judgment about their behavior and allowing them to come forward with their own concerns. After all, they didn’t choose to have a mental illness like depression. If you’ve ever dealt with depression firsthand, it may be appropriate to relate your own experiences with your struggle, but make sure that you don’t skew the conversation away from your loved one.

Be Patient

Depression isn’t something you can fix in a few days. It may take months or even years for your friend to get better. And in the meantime, they’re going to need all the patience and support they can get.

However, this can become mentally and physically taxing for you. Be patient and take breaks for your own mental health.

Educate Yourself

It can be hard to separate facts from fiction when talking about depression, but not knowing the difference can make things worse for your friend.

We recommend familiarizing yourself with local and online resources to develop a working knowledge of depression. Even if you don’t understand it fully, your friend will be glad to know that you cared enough to even try. Likewise, a basic understanding of depression can help you understand what your loved one is going through, making it easier to figure out the best way to support them.

Things To Avoid When Helping Someone With Depression

Because depression is a sensitive subject, you need to take extra care to avoid these three things:

“Fixing” Them Yourself

Unless you’re a trained mental healthcare provider, you’re unlikely to “fix” someone’s depressive disorder on your own. Instead, recommend that your loved one seek professional treatment services for their condition.

If they are already undergoing treatment, you can still play a supporting role in their recovery. Encourage them to continue their treatment. You can do this by reminding them of therapist appointments and ensuring they take their medicine – but it’s also important to understand your loved one’s boundaries. Unless they’ve explicitly asked you to be part of their recovery in this way, you may want to find other ways to support them. Simply showing up, listening to them, and treating them as you always have is enough.

If you don’t think you can support your friend alone, the good news is that you don’t have to. There are depression support groups that can relate to what they’re going through.

Giving Up On Them

Supporting someone who is suffering from depression symptoms can be tricky. Your attempts to help be refused initially and they may even push you away. Confronting the possibility of needing professional help for a problem you didn’t ask for is difficult. Don’t take it personally if your loved one becomes defensive or angry when you try to help.

An excellent way to reframe your support is that you’re there with them, not for them. Even if you get pushed away, reassure them that you’ll still be supporting their recovery.

Giving Unsolicited Advice

A good night’s sleep and a balanced diet help greatly in managing depression. However, these seemingly obvious things can be difficult to do when suffering from depressive symptoms. Even if your intentions are good, they may not take it well if you provide advice without being asked.

Instead of giving advice without being asked, wait until they ask for it. By putting their needs first, you’re demonstrating that their recovery – not your comfort nor your demands – is your #1 priority. Plus, they’ll be more likely to follow your tips if they’re already willing to hear it out.


When a friend or other loved one suffers from depressive symptoms, it’s probably your first instinct to try and help them in any way that you can. By being open-minded, non-judgmental, and supportive, you’re doing what you can. However, the most important part of being there for a depressed loved one is encouraging them to seek professional help. As both a concerned party and non-mental health professional, it isn’t your place to give them advice or suggest something outside of professional opinions.

If one of your friends or family members has been diagnosed with depression, contact us or visit our page for more information on our depression treatment programs.

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