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How to Support Someone Through a Depressive Episode

Reading time | 3 min

During a depressive episode, it’s often almost impossible for some people to articulate their needs and wants. Most of our time is spent inside our heads trying to work through the negative self-talk, anxiety, and overwhelming sadness. There isn’t enough time or energy for constructive communication. So if someone you care about lives with depression, you may not know how to be there for them.

On one of their good days, have a conversation with your loved one about how to support them when they need it. That way, you can lay out a blueprint for how to move through a depressive episode together.

Find out what support means to them

Each person living with depression has their own way of coping. Some people need to be alone. Others will sleep through their episode. Creative types may write, paint, or draw during hard times. Personally, I like to immerse myself in movies. They are a great distraction from what’s going on in my head.

Speak with your loved one and find out what helps get them through the tough moments. If space is needed, give it to them without question.

Also, when in the middle of an episode, your loved one may need help with everyday tasks. Do what you can to take up the slack if necessary. That could be making meals, doing a load of laundry, or taking a trip to the grocery store. Relieving them of those duties allows them to focus on taking care of themselves and working with their tools to get better.

Remind them that they are enough

Having depression and going through a particularly bad episode leads to feelings of guilt. Your loved one may feel guilty about not being able to function at their “normal” level.

To alleviate that guilt, remind them that it is OK to feel unwell. It’s not their fault they have depression. Sometimes depression may flare up in the same way a chronic condition like arthritis does. No one blames a person with arthritis for having arthritis. Therefore, they should not feel like they are to blame for their depression.

Have empathy for how they’re feeling

Minimizing someone’s experience by saying there are people in the world who have it harder can be harmful. You cannot equate one person’s pain with another’s.

Some people may start to feel invisible if their friends and family don’t recognize just how serious their depression is. Remember, they don’t have control over what they’re feeling. They need your empathy.

Acknowledge what they’re experiencing by listening and asking how you can help. Understand that what they’re going through is real and feels all-encompassing, and be there for them when they need you.

Encourage them to get some sun

Depression can make you want to sleep all day, minimizing the time you spend in the sun. Encourage your loved one to go outside for a few minutes each day. It’s common for people with depression to be deficient in vitamin D. Being in the sun is a natural way to get that much-needed supplement.

Ask them to go for a quick walk with you or sit outside to have a cup of coffee or tea. If they insist on staying in the house, open the curtains or blinds and let some natural light in. In my experience, getting a little sunshine and fresh air really does help elevate my mood.

Promote self-care

Many people have a hard time taking care of themselves. With depression, it can be even harder. Simple tasks like brushing their teeth, combing their hair, or getting dressed become painstaking. Eating often falls by the wayside as well.

Your loved one may resist your efforts, but it will make a huge difference if you’re able to get them out of bed. Offer to help them wash their face and brush their teeth. Try to get them into some comfy clothes and bring them to a room with a television and a lot of natural light. They will feel a little better getting out of their dark room.

Also, appetite is often non-existent during a depression episode. Encourage your loved one to eat small meals throughout the day. Toast, a fruit salad, a small green salad, or soup are some light foods that your loved one can eat during their episodes.

Consider making a protein or meal replacement shake if food is a complete turnoff. And make sure they are getting enough water! Dehydration will make anyone feel more sluggish.

Make a nice relaxing bath for your loved one. Depression is linked to muscle aches. I recommend adding Epsom salt and lavender essential oil to the hot water to help aid in relaxation.

Some people also find it helpful to listen to a guided meditation on self-kindness while soaking. It can encourage positive thoughts to overpower the negative self-talk that’s been dominating their mind.

Be a quiet presence

When someone is in a depressive episode, it’s likely they won’t feel like talking to others. Try not to ask questions about why they are feeling depressed. Most of the time, they do not understand it themselves.

Being a quiet presence is more than enough. Sit with them and be there physically. Knowing that they are not alone is very helpful in getting through to the other side of depression.

Article resources

DEPR-US-NP-00039  OCTOBER 2018