Together through hard times: How you can help loved ones with depression

When a person falls ill with depression, their loved ones often feel helpless and desperate. The loved one changes, can no longer participate in life as he or she would in a healthy state, and obviously suffers. One wishes for a magic formula to make the disease disappear. Even though this magic formula unfortunately does not exist, there are still things you can do for the person affected. How you can support your relatives, what difficulties can arise and how affected persons themselves experience the situation, read here!

Dealing with depressed people

When a loved one is in bed with a broken leg, we know exactly what to do. People offer to help with shopping, household chores or doctor’s appointments. A broken leg is visible and the impairment in everyday life is obvious. But depression? You don’t see it directly. We usually don’t have a pattern in mind of how to deal with the illness. A first important point is to deal openly with the depression. When it no longer stands like an elephant in the room, the first step has been taken.

Talking about the depression

People who talk can be helped: These are true words for sufferers, but also for friends or family. If you notice that your loved one is not well or you already know about the diagnosis of depression, you should not avoid or circumvent the topic.

Keep the following in mind to help yourself have the conversation:

  • Depression is an illness just like any other.
  • Your counterpart is not a completely different person.
  • He or she may have a depressive illness, but is much more than that illness.
  • It could also be the aforementioned broken leg, severe flu, or any other illness.
  • So depression can be addressed just as directly as other types of illnesses.

Address questions or your own uncertainty quite openly.

In conversation with depressed people

It’s great if you, as a loved one, seek out conversation with the affected person. If you are unsure how to act, then speak up calmly. The person you are talking to can certainly ease a lot of your worries. Try to have a good conversation, as you normally would. Keep eye contact, let them finish, listen: The most important rules of conversation apply in every situation!

It is very different whether you encounter a lot or little need to talk with the depressed person. As a family member, you will quickly notice whether the depressed person wants to talk about the depression or not. Sometimes it can also be helpful or supportive to stay silent together or talk about other topics. Some things the depressed person expresses you will not be able to relate to or approve of. It may be hard for you to hear the negative feelings the person is struggling with. Try to make room for these feelings in yourself and in the other person, to follow up and empathize.

Depression: help from relatives

Probably, after talking to the person suffering from depression, as a relative you feel the need to help in a concrete way. And you can do that! Of course, always in consultation with the affected person. Ideally, your help is an offer that can be accepted, but also rejected without further consequences.

Many depressed persons are severely impaired in their everyday lives. Even seemingly small tasks for outsiders cause the affected trouble and cost overcoming. This is because the symptoms of depression include a lack of drive and energy. Often, unfinished tasks or duties have already accumulated before, and now, in the acute stage of the disease, these seem almost insurmountable.

Making everyday life easier for depressed patients

Small assistance in everyday life can already take an immense burden off the shoulders of the affected person. Perhaps there are tasks in the household or paperwork that have piled up?

  • Vacuuming the apartment
  • Wash the bedding
  • Take away old glass?

Just ask if there are things you can take care of. It’s these little things that help take the pressure off a loved one with depression.

Be understanding and supportive of your loved one in everyday life.

It can be just as relieving to accompany the person with depression to appointments with the doctor, psychotherapist, or when going to the authorities. This gives the person the security and reassurance of not being alone. You can also assist with errands of all kinds. Ask if the person needs anything. It is sometimes little things that your friend, partner or father is missing.

What sufferers need

In addition to everyday tasks, eating is often a difficult issue for depressed individuals. They lack the energy to eat healthy and cook fresh. Perhaps you can go shopping together and then prepare a healthy meal. You may have noticed that depressed individuals often have a hard time making choices. Why not suggest a suitable recipe and then together get everything you need for a nice breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Often, fresh air, exercise and daylight also come up short. Walks or bike rides help to just get out the door and see something different. Whether people talk or stay silent is completely different and both are perfectly fine.

Helpful questions for relatives

  • What do you need to make you feel a tiny bit better right now?
  • Is there something that would bring you joy right now?
  • Are there any specific concerns that you would like to share with me?
  • What is helpful to you right now?
  • What are you ruminating on the most right now?
  • Do you need anything (from the supermarket, drugstore, hardware store…)?
  • Are there any decisions coming up that you need assistance with?

Important: Offer help but don’t impose!

Regardless of the form in which you, as a relative, come to the aid of the person with depression, it should always be an offer. Avoid imposing your help and do not be angry if an offer of help is turned down.

When things get tricky…

Those affected and their relatives find themselves in an extreme situation during a depression. Things can get tricky when nerves are on edge on both sides. Remember to give yourself and your significant other enough alone time. Each of us has different needs for company or quiet, closeness or distance. Conflicts should also be discussed openly and early on.

Appreciation and recognition

Always note that even if the person is ill at the moment, he or she is still an independent and valuable person. Acknowledge that this illness exists and that your counterpart did not choose this illness. Listen to yourself, what would do you good in difficult situations or has helped you in the past. For sure, you too will always prefer to be perceived at eye level and supported in your needs.

Never forget yourself!

Pay attention to yourself

No one is served if you take on too much and also become physically or mentally ill. Only when you take care of yourself can you take care of others. It is to your credit that you care for your loved one and support him or her. Even if it is difficult for some of those affected to show their gratitude, you can be sure of this gratitude.

Informed family members of those affected by depression

What else can you specifically consider? Inform yourself about the clinical picture of depression! There are countless recommended books, audio books or guidebooks about depression. Often, it’s experience stories from other sufferers that open our eyes to what’s going on inside our counterparts. For a few first examples, simply click on the respective link and let yourself be inspired!

When you are informed about the condition, you can better assess what will help your loved one. You will know about options for psychotherapy and be better able to assess what treatment is needed. If the depressed person needs to take medication, you can support them by reading the package inserts carefully and providing reminders as soon as the medication needs to be taken.

Together we are strong

In conclusion, it is important to emphasize that we humans need each other’s help and support. Anyone can, from one moment to the next, find himself or herself in a difficult situation in which he or she needs help. But every crisis also holds a chance: the chance for cohesion, trust and shared experiences. Going through hard times together welds people together. A depressive episode passes and afterwards bright times await together with your loved one!


(1) Ehlers, A., & Clark, D. M. (2000). A cognitive model of posttraumatic stress disorder. Behaviour research and therapy, 38(4), 319-345

(2) Foa, E. B., & Kozak, M. J. (1986). Emotional processing of fear: exposure to corrective information. Psychological bulletin, 99(1), 20

(3) Wittchen, H. U., & Hoyer, J. (2006). Clinical psychology & psychotherapy (Vol. 1131). Heidelberg: Springer.

Categories: Depression

Verena Klein
Autor Verena Klein
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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