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.
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.
If a loved one is experiencing depression, they may show symptoms including:
If a loved one is experiencing anxiety, their symptoms may include:
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.
Try some opening lines, such as:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.