How to Help Those Struggling with Depression

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.


How to Help Those Struggling with Depression

If you’ve never struggled with depression, do you ever wonder what you can say or do to help those who do suffer? If you do, this post will hopefully offer you insight into accomplishing that desire.

When I was at my most depressed, I received little to nothing of what others said or did to try and help me. I just couldn’t see anything positive. Looking back, I realize that even though I didn’t think so at the time, having people just not give up on me even when I had given up made all the difference. No matter what I said or did, they always took me back and forgave me.

The best counselors and friends were the ones who simply listened but maintained boundaries in that they refused to climb into the pit with me. They were able to maintain mental and physical health in their own lives and not let me pull them in the pit. So, I saw them as stable people who accepted me where I was as well as examples of where I wanted to be.

While some did suggest I simple “change,” just “be happy,” for the most part the people in my life allowed me to be however I was going to be, not really accepting the behavior, but loving me regardless. And when they saw any positive, whether momentary or a genuine step toward change, they latched on to that for as long as the wave existed even when they knew it would fade. This went a long way helping me make small, gradual changes that over time added up to make a huge difference in discovering victory.

Related to this, those who did not try to force me to change were the ones I wanted to be around. I know most of them were praying for me, but they did not try and insist I change. They accepted me for who I was at the time. When I did reject them, which I did often since intimacy of any sort was thin at best and impossible at worse most of the time, they did not take it personally. They knew, somehow, it wasn’t meant personally. They gave me the space I needed, even letting me be miserable, and were always available when I came out of the darkest recesses of the pit for a while.

Generally speaking then, the people in my life who had never suffered depression, helped me by staying consistent with who they were, by accepting me for who I was and where I was, by seeing beyond where I was and to who I could become, and by praying for me.

My husband said he felt helpless when I was depressed, and I guess he kind of was. I assume that’s how many people who have not had depression feel. The odd part is that this is how people with depression feel too. So, realize that the helplessness you feel in not being able to help the person get out of depression is similar to the helplessness the depressed person feels in being trapped in it. Interesting, don’t you think?

DISCUSSION: What can you add regarding how to help someone who is depressed? Any questions?

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Be determined. Pursue simplicity. Find balance. Be curious. Be deliberate. Be intentional. Age gracefully. Make the most of every opportunity.


September 18, 2014 at 9:26 am

I think there are several key points to remember. Sometimes just being there is important. Most often no words need to be said. Just being there. Second, no cliches. I can't stand that and I can only imagine how those suffering from depression hate them.
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    September 18, 2014 at 11:35 am

    Steady & consistent. Those help a ton when a person can't even control his/her own feelings. I don't like clichés in writing or speaking no matter what, but they're especially frustrating when meant as motivation for someone struggling mentally. Good points!

September 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

Oh Kari, You're right! Just listen and love consistently. Being reminded of all you should be thankful for and happy about, although true, does not help. I remember a member of our church shaking her finger at me and say, "Shame on you." You don't want to be around those people. Thanks for running this series again!!
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    September 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    It\’s really about how you live your life And not about what you say that makes the most difference. A related tip is to only give advice when asked, never unsolicited. I\’ve learned that the hard way.

    Mark Allman
    September 19, 2014 at 10:52 am

    I agree with you Deb. Sometimes we hide behind "it's true" as a reason it's ok to say something. Just because something is true does not mean it will help by pointing it out to someone who is struggling. I think at times it insults them. We do need to constantly be there with our love and acceptance.

      September 19, 2014 at 11:30 am

      Something I've said many times is "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should," and I think that fits well here. Just because a you can say something – and may be speaking truth – doesn't mean you should say it. If it's not to the benefit of the person and not encouraging, then don't say it. Unfortunately, what may seem logically beneficial is thrown out the window where depression is concerned. Depression quite often is not logical. And you're right… consistent love and acceptance of the person truly is key, Mary.

September 18, 2014 at 4:03 pm

I read this before and it's a great reminder again. Consistently loving, supporting, and praying without giving up. Some battles are won in the endurance. If we truly love people as He loves, we have to stick with them. Not entering the pit, as you said, but offering a different voice and encouragement. Thanks Kari.
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tc Avey
September 22, 2014 at 10:51 am

My husband said he felt helpless while I was grieving my dad. It took months, but I finally came out of the fog. During it all my husband stood by me. He would listen if I wanted to talk, or just sit by me if I wanted to be silent.
His presents helped me during that trying time.

September 25, 2014 at 2:23 am

I've not worked with a lot of people with depression but believe reminding them you are there for them and are willing to support them is key. It allows them to know they can come to you for help. Great post!

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