How to help a loved one with depression

by Kaiser Permanente |
An older couple holding hands

Depression is more common than you may think. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, more than 264 million people worldwide experience depression.1 It’s a mental health condition that can affect anyone — including our loved ones — for a variety of reasons.

So, if you think someone in your life might be living with depression, it’s important to offer your support, hope, and encouragement. You may not be able to make their depression go away, but you can let them know you care and want to help them get better.

And remember, there is no right or wrong way to be supportive. Each relationship is different — and so is everyone’s experience with depression. But there are several things you can do when trying to help someone you care about.

Understand that depression isn’t the same for everyone

There are many different types of depression, including:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Perinatal and postpartum depression
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Situational depression

Each of these types of depression can affect a person differently and it can happen at different stages in their life.

For example, if your best friend just had a baby and doesn’t quite seem like herself, she may be experiencing postpartum depression. Or if someone is going through a traumatic event or situation, they might be experiencing situational depression.

Recognize the warning signs

It can be difficult to know when someone is depressed, especially if you’re not able to connect face-to-face. Some people try to hide their symptoms — even from the people they’re closest to. And many people are dealing with increased stress and anxiety. But it’s important to look and listen for warning signs so you can speak up if you think something’s wrong.

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Expressing a hopeless or negative outlook on life
  • Showing loss of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Sleeping or eating too little or too much
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, or worthlessness
  • Talking about death or suicide2

Talk about it

If you notice someone is showing depression warning signs, talk to them right away. Even if it’s just a gut feeling, or a small sign that something isn’t right, it’s important to start the conversation.

We can support the people in our lives by speaking up and encouraging them to find support and get better. Let them know that depression is a common medical condition — and help is available. Not sure what to say to someone who might be depressed? Visit Find Your Words for guidance.

Help them find the right resources

The best thing you can do for someone who’s depressed is help them find support. You can start by encouraging them to talk with their doctor. Depression is treated in different ways — and their doctor can help them find the right treatment options.

Check in

Even if a friend or family member is getting treatment, it’s still a good idea to check in and stay connected. Call them to see how they’re doing, send a text, or offer to help run errands like a grocery trip. Even if it’s a small gesture, it’s important to show them you care.

While you can’t "fix" someone’s depression, you can offer support, encouragement, and hope. Remember that the most important thing you can do is to let them know they’re loved, and encourage them to take action.

Depression, World Health Organization, January 30, 2020.

If you believe someone might be considering suicide, don’t wait until it’s too late — talk to them about it now. You can help them find support and do your best to keep them safe. And if you’re ever unsure how to stop someone from harming themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or dial 911.