Here’s How You Can Support Someone with Depression and Anxiety

Someone's hand being held in comfort

It can be hard to know how to help a loved one who has expressed depressed or anxious thoughts. You don't want to risk saying the wrong thing, scaring them off, or being intrusive when your intentions are pure.

But support, encouragement, and open communication can play an important role in your loved one's recovery.

Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Depression and anxiety are mental health disorders that affect millions of people in the United States every year. They are complex and individualized experiences that can interfere with daily living and cause people to withdraw from their normal activities.

It's important to understand the signs and symptoms of someone who may be battling depression or anxiety. Symptoms vary greatly from person to person and can depend on someone's personality.

Here's what you should look out for.

Symptoms of depression

If a loved one is experiencing depression, they may show symptoms including:

  • Inability to concentrate, remember things, or make decisions.
  • Lack of energy and motivation to perform even simple tasks.
  • Loss of interest in their normal activities such as hobbies, social engagements, and sex.
  • Mentions of not wanting to live, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts.
  • Reduced or increased appetite.
  • Restlessness or nervousness.
  • Sleeping too much, not getting enough sleep, or other sleep disturbances.
  • Unexplained physical pains or digestive problems.

Symptoms of anxiety

If a loved one is experiencing anxiety, their symptoms may include:

  • Avoiding situations or events.
  • Being on edge and restless.
  • Lightheadedness, sweating, and nausea.
  • Persistent worry or all-or-nothing thinking.
  • Quickly feeling overwhelmed in certain situations.
  • Second-guessing themselves and their decisions.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Stomach cramps or diarrhea.
  • Sudden irritability and frustration.

How to Support Someone with Anxiety or Depression

Responding to someone with love, empathy, acceptance, non-judgment, and hope are keys to being a supportive person in your loved one's recovery. Use these tips to keep the lines of communication open.

Start a conversation.

Try some opening lines, such as:

  • “I've been feeling concerned about you."
  • “I've noticed some differences in you recently and was wondering how you're doing."
  • “You haven't seemed like yourself lately. How have you been feeling?"
  • “You seem pretty down these days, and I wanted to check in with you."

Be a compassionate listener.

These conversations are not easy, but it's important to talk less and listen more. Talking about mental health can help alleviate symptoms, so lend a listening ear and be attentive to their words.

Some follow-up questions can help keep them talking. These include:

  • “Did something happen that made you start feeling this way?"
  • “Do you have harmful thoughts about yourself?"
  • “Have you considered seeking professional help?"
  • “How can I best support you right now?"

Validate their feelings.

Nobody enjoys feeling isolated and alone in their problems. Reminding your loved ones of your support and love can help.

Simple lines can be comforting, such as:

  • “Even if I'm not able to fully understand what you are feeling, I'm here for you, and I want to help you."
  • “I know it may be hard to believe this right now, but the way you are feeling will change."
  • “If you are feeling like you want to give up, tell yourself to hold on for just one more day."
  • “You are worthy. You are loved."
  • “You're important to me. I love you no matter what."
  • “You're never alone. I'm always here for you."

Suggest professional help.

Be gentle when encouraging them to seek recovery options. Offer to help them find a doctor or therapist and to accompany them on their first visit. Encourage them to be honest with a professional. Remind them that you and the professional are here to help them feel better and will not judge them.

Make plans together.

Without forcing it, you can ask to spend time with your loved one. Invite them for a walk outside or to the movies. Don't make the conversation about their condition, and don't force a conversation if they would prefer silence.

Continuing Support Through Recovery

Mental illness recovery does not happen overnight. It's important to continue your support while your loved one is on their journey to health.

Without becoming overbearing, check up on them. Ask how they have been feeling with the help they are getting. Continue to make plans and encourage activity. Be patient and compassionate, as this is a hard battle, and progress may not be linear.

Understanding Suicide Risk

If a loved one is severely depressed, they may be having suicidal thoughts or ideations. Take all signs of suicidal behavior seriously and act immediately.

Signs of suicidal thoughts or plans include:

  • Buying means to attempt suicide, such as a gun or pills.
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness and self-hate.
  • Getting lost in thoughts about death or violence.
  • Giving away belongings.
  • Having intense mood swings.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Making comments about suicide or not wanting to live such as, “I wish I were dead," or “I can't take this anymore."
  • Performing risky or self-destructive actions, such as driving recklessly.
  • Saying goodbye to people as if they won't ever see them again.
  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone.

If your loved one is experiencing these symptoms and you believe they may be suicidal, do not wait to act. Call 911 or 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Take Care of Yourself

Supporting a loved one who is battling depression or anxiety is not an easy task. It is important that you do your best to maintain your own healthy habits and routine to prevent burnout. Plus, your actions can inspire your loved ones to take care of themselves, too. These tips can help:

  • Ask for help. Lean on your support network. Tell your friends and family what you need and consider seeking a therapist for extra support.
  • Set boundaries. Your own health will suffer if you do not set clear limits on what you are willing and able to do. Do not take on more responsibility than is healthy for you.
  • Try to stay healthy. Find time for yourself and the activities you enjoy. Try to focus on staying active, eating nutritious meals, and spending time doing things with people who renew your spirit. Don't feel guilty about taking time for yourself.

If you want to learn more about understanding and responding to mental health challenges, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) USA offers a range of comprehensive skills-based early intervention courses. See their course guide here.