Q: One of my family members seems to be severely depressed? What could/should I do-if anything at all?

A: Depression is a psychological disorder that affects one's mood and emotions, which, in turn, can cause significant behavioral changes. Some individuals suffering from depression may have a recurrent history while others may be experiencing it for the first time. Either way it likely will affect an individual's daily functioning and the lives of those around him. 

If you suspect a family member is suffering from depression, the first thing you should do is encourage your family member to seek appropriate, professional, mental health services.  For some, depression can have many symptoms that can be debilitating (chronic fatigue, inability to concentrate, hopelessness, etc.) and for others a concern for crisis (suicidal ideation).  A trained professional can help your family member identify the sources of the issues and assist with an appropriate treatment plan.  The mental health professional can also help identify triggers and copings skills that can improve your family member's mood state and get them on track for recovery.

Furthermore, you should educate yourself about depression. Having adequate information will assist you to aid your family member through this difficult time--especially since they may be uncomfortable in discussing how they feel themselves.  There are many books and resources you can find that offer information about the basics of depression to give you a foundation to assist your loved one and provide support where needed. Also, if you are educated about the disorder, you can assist them in implementing their treatment plan and utilizing learned skills from treatment.

You can also aid your family member by providing support and encouragement.  They will need lots of understanding through this time.  Assisting him with day to day activities or just providing emotional support can facilitate a less stressful environment.  However, do not overly encourage him because this could cause stress and feelings of inadequacy due to a current mood state and feeling able to participate in activities.

Tips for helping a family member suffering from depression:

  • Encourage him to seek help from a mental health professional.
  • Do not treat his depression like a negative or something that should be hidden that might cause more sadness and discomfort for your family member.  Instead be open about it and provide support where needed.
  • Ask him what they need help with and assist them with day to day activities to help reduce their stress.
  • Do not be judgmental or put a time frame on when they should be feeling better.  Depression affects each person differently and recovery is an individual process too.
  • Listen and encourage him with gaining milestones in the recovery process.