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Helping a depressed person: Encourage them to seek out a therapist

Ben Brafman, LMC, CAP CEO/Founder and Clinical Director The Sylvia Brafman Mental Health Center, Destination Hope: The Women’s Program
Helping a depressed person: Encourage them to seek out a therapist

Sometimes those suffering from depression are the last to realize that help is available. Loved ones can be left feeling powerless to help and watching another loved one suffer is never easy. Here are some tips on how to encourage your loved one to seek help and go into therapy to work through their depression.


Do

Do recognize the symptoms of depression

It’s not always easy to recognize the difference between a temporary bout of melancholy and depression, but if you notice any of the following symptoms, your partner may be needing your help. First, how long have they felt down? If it’s been longer than a few weeks, it could be a problem. Have they exhibited any mood changes, such as a sense of hopelessness or low self-worth, irritability or trouble concentrating? Loss of sex drive? Different eating or sleeping habits? Do they seem more tired than usual? These can all be symptoms of depression.

Do encourage them to seek help

It’s possible that your loved one may already know that they need to seek help but their depression makes them feel unable to do so. They also may be worried that admitting that they are depressed will be embarrassing. Encourage them to make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist for a thorough evaluation and remind them that you are there to support them as needed. If they refuse, you may need to seek advice from a mental health professional.

Do your research

To help your spouse to make informed decisions about their treatment and care, you need to educate yourself about depression, its effects and its treatment. Reliable mental health websites, books and articles are a good place to start and don’t be afraid to consult with professionals. Both you and your spouse can talk with a primary care provider about options for treatment and how to offer support during this time. If your spouse is still reluctant to seek help, continue to encourage them and make it clear that you are there to love and support them. There are few circumstances in which a person can be forced into treatment, most require a court order.

Do be open with your spouse

Communicate. Don’t shut down the lines of communication just because your spouse is depressed and may seem withdrawn or irritable. Now is the time to work hard to keep the lines of communication open. Talking openly about depression can help your loved one to feel supported and to seek help, especially if you are careful to be a good listener and do not react negatively. Avoid judgmental language and just be patient. Your loved one will appreciate the support, even if they can’t immediately show it. This can go a long way toward helping them to seek and receive the help they need to get better.

Do be a central part of their recovery

Although you alone are not responsible for your loved one’s recovery, you can play a large supporting role in it. Even things as simple as helping them with their medication or sitting in on their therapy sessions can help, though you should discuss this with them first. Try to create a pleasant atmosphere that won’t trigger stress, fear or anxiety in your partner by (at least temporarily) taking responsibility for things such as paying bills or dealing with household conflicts or problems that come up. Finally, remember that with effective therapy and perhaps appropriate medication, this situation won’t last forever. With your gentle help and positive attitude, your partner will be more encouraged to seek the treatment they need to climb out of their depression.


Don't

Do not tell them it’s all in their head

Although you may think that a positive attitude is all that is needed, if your spouse is depressed, they may actually need treatment from medical professionals. By telling them that it’s all about mind over matter, they may be more reluctant to seek help because they feel like a failure for not being able to think positively.

Do not tell them what to do

So meditation and yoga helped you when you were feeling a bit down last year? And organic green smoothies cheered up your sister when she was feeling anxious and a bit blue? That’s great, but don’t dish out advice to a partner suffering from depression unless you are a certified mental health professional. Anxiety, low level blues and clinical depression are very different beasts with very different treatments. What helps one can make another worse.

Do not confuse problems due to depression with relationship problems

Although it can seem difficult at first, you need to recognize that the symptoms your partner exhibits aren’t necessarily about you or the state of your relationship. Take a step back and try not to argue or be confrontational. If they are depressed, they may appear to be very negative and blame the relationship for their unhappiness. Your partner needs your support during this time, and your ability to listen compassionately may make them feel more willing to seek help.

Do not compare them to others

Sure, life is difficult for the poor in, say, Bangladesh or for someone with a terminal illness. However, being reminded that other people’s problems are objectively worse than their own will not make someone suffering from depression feel better. In fact, it is likely to make them feel worse, increasing feelings of helplessness and weakness. No one wants to be depressed and treating your loved one’s depression like it’s a matter of choice can make them more reluctant to seek help.

Do not forget to identify concrete problems

Don’t get into a debate about who is right and who is wrong (even if you think you are right!). Talk to your spouse with compassion and an open mind to find out how they feel and what they would like to do next. Focus on identifying simple, concrete problems that they can work on with your moral support and help from a medical professional, such as difficulty with sleeping or concentrating. By isolating smaller, more manageable issues, they may be more willing to address the larger mental health issue that is their depression. However, if you push too hard, or make them feel powerless and judged, they are less likely to want to seek the help they need.


Summary
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If you have a loved one who is battling depression, it can be overwhelming and confusing trying to figure out what you should or shouldn’t do. Hopefully, these tips can help you to successfully encourage your spouse to get the counselling they need and for both of you to take the first steps toward recovery as a couple.


More expert advice about Depression

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Ben Brafman, LMC, CAPCEO/Founder and Clinical Director

Ben Brafman, LMHC, CAP, is the Clinical Director, President and CEO of Destination Hope, a nationally recognized substance abuse and dual diagnosis treatment facility in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. With more than two decades of hands-on experience...

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