depressed senior woman

October is National Depression and Mental Health Month. In our last post, we talked about the symptoms of depression. But if your loved one is diagnosed with depression, what’s the next step? Your doctor may have prescribed antidepressants or other treatments, but is there anything else you personally can do to help? Read on to find out what you can do to help your loved one get through this difficult time.

Recognize that depression is an illness. Just like the flu, depression is an illness that can leave a person physically exhausted and unable to cope with everyday life. Don’t belittle your loved one’s depression by telling him to “snap out of it.” Instead, think of the little things that make you feel better when you’re sick. Offering to bring over a warm meal won’t cure him, but it will make him feel cared for.

Keep in touch. People who are depressed often become isolated because they don’t want to be a bother to their friends and family. So make it your job to stay in contact. Meet your loved one for a walk, a round of golf, or anything he finds enjoyable. Realize that you might have to work extra hard to engage him–but the support he’ll feel is worth it.

Talk it out. Your father is depressed, and you think part of it may be because he can no longer drive. Recognize the significance of the emotions behind his feelings. Does he feel a loss of independence, or that he’s a burden? Ask him how he feels, and don’t downplay his response. Having someone sit and listen will help him feel comforted and supported.

Focus on small goals. Getting anything done–even everyday things like errands–can feel insurmountable to a depressed person. You may feel a temptation to do things for your loved one, but try to resist–your good intentions just make make him feel more incapable. Instead, help by breaking tasks into small steps. Does he need to clean the house? Suggest your loved one start by unloading the dishwasher. Encouraging your loved one to accomplish small goals will help him feel a little more empowered.

Communicate with your loved one’s physician. Has your loved one lost weight without seeming to notice? Signals like this are valuable information for the physician who is treating your loved one. If you notice things you think the doctor might want to know, pick up the phone and call him or her, or ask your loved one if you can tag along to his next appointment.

Have you seen a loved one through a bout of depression? Do you have any tips to share about the experience?

For more information, please review our Depression Resources.