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  • Writer's pictureAllison Abrams, LCSW-R

How to Help Someone with Depression

An estimated one in 10 adults in the United States reports currently experiencing depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization estimates that 350 million people are affected globally. If you have a friend or loved one whom you suspect may be battling depression, there are a number of things you can do to help.

But first, let’s start with what not to do:


Most people have experienced a case of “the blues” at one time or another. Whether caused by heartbreak, loss, or for seemingly no reason at all, symptoms may include decreased energy, sadness, or a general “down in the dumps” feeling. Clinical depression can mirror these symptoms to a significantly higher degree of severity, so it is crucial to recognize the difference.

A reactive depression in response to a crisis or simply to a change in external circumstances is often to be expected. The sadness one experiences from time to time under such conditions will generally not interfere with the functioning of daily living and will pass fairly quickly in time. Clinical depression, on the other hand, is not so simple. It is not something someone can simply “snap out of,” and telling someone to “cheer up,” or that “it’s not as bad as it seems,” is not helpful.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) describes symptoms of a depressive disorder as persisting for more than two weeks with a significant impairment in daily functioning. Symptoms may include persistent feelings of worthlessness and suicide ideation. If someone expresses thoughts about wanting to hurt themselves or exhibits any other risk factors for suicide, take the person seriously. A large percentage of those who committed suicide told someone of their intentions, so such expressions should not be minimized. Other risk factors for suicide can be found on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, which warns not to preach with remarks such as, “You have so much to live for,” or, “Your suicide will hurt your family.”


Take an honest assessment of your thoughts and views on depression. Do you question its legitimacy? Do you question whether it is an issue at all, or simply a weakness that can be overcome if only the person was stronger? If this is the case, please read on.

Depression has nothing to do with strength or weakness of character, any more so than cancer or any other physical ailment. Studies have shown that stigma is one of the primary obstacles in one’s likelihood of reaching out for help. By taking steps to reduce stigma, you are helping in many ways.

Depression has nothing to do with strength or weakness of character, any more so than cancer or any other physical ailment. Studies have shown that stigma is one of the primary obstacles in one’s likelihood of reaching out for help. By taking steps to reduce stigma, you are helping in many ways.

Now for what you can and should do:


Estimates place the risk of suicide among those with major depression at about 3.4%. If someone you care about expresses thoughts of hurting themselves, please take these seriously.

According to Stella Padnos-Shea, social worker and volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, depression is one of the most frequently cited risk factors for suicide. If you suspect that someone is at risk of suicide, it is crucial that you take action. You can escort the person to your local emergency room or call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


One of the best things you can do to help your loved one is educate yourself about what clinical depression is. According to the DSM-5, certain criteria must be met in order for a person to be diagnosed with a depressive disorder. These are signs that you want to look for in the person you are concerned about. They include a depressed or irritable mood for much of the day, nearly every day, for more than two weeks; changes in weight, sleep, and/or appetite; difficulty concentrating; decreased energy; and decreased interest in activities that once seemed pleasurable.

Psychiatrist David D. Burns, author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy (an excellent resource for anyone who would like to better understand depression), describes one of the primary indicators of someone experiencing a clinical depressive episode is the pervasiveness of symptoms and distortion of thoughts and self-image. Keep in mind the words “pervasive” and “distorted.” Unless someone has experienced clinical depression, it is very difficult to fully appreciate and understand what it feels like and how debilitating it can be.

Imagine walking around wearing a pair of dark glasses; everywhere you turn, everything looks dark. This is where the distortion comes in. Those around you may try to convince you that what you are seeing is not accurate, and may even point out the beauty and the colors around you, but wearing those lenses, it’s impossible to see. When you are depressed, your perception of the world is often so clouded that it is almost impossible to see the positive in anything or even to recall that there were good times.


Although most will not seek help unless they are ready and encouraged, it would be helpful to have a list of possible referrals to offer. When someone is in the throes of clinical depression, the idea of researching and seeking professional help could seem like a herculean task, especially with all the changes in managed care. You would be removing a huge obstacle in having a few resources available to hand over.

Sites such as can be excellent sources for finding a mental health provider. If insurance will be used, you can call the insurance company for a list of preferred providers.


According to Padnos-Shea, one of the most important things you can do for someone you believe is experiencing clinical depression is to be there for the person and to let them know you are there. It is not uncommon for friends and family to avoid a depressed loved one—not out of any malice, but rather as a result of feeling impotent or not knowing what to do. The worst thing you can do for a depressed person is to abandon them. This only reinforces the false belief they are alone in a world where no one cares. Your loved one may push you away and isolate. This is common in depressed individuals. Regardless, be sure to let the person know in no uncertain terms that, when and if they are ready to reach out, you will be there.

It is important to note that a majority of people diagnosed with mental health issues, including depression, do not end up attempting or committing suicide. Despite the statistics mentioned above, the vast majority of those who experience clinical depression will improve with treatment. The determining factors in recovery include whether they choose to get professional help and the support they have in their lives. So, know that your support and your presence can absolutely make a difference.


  1. Current depression among adults – United States, 2006 and 2008. (2010, October 1). Retrieved from

  2. Depression fact sheet. (2012). Retrieved from

  3. Lifetime suicide risk in major depression: Sex and age determinants. (n.d.). Retrieved from

This article was originally published on GoodTherapy.


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