How to Deal With a Depressed Family Member

Three Parts:Interacting with a Depressed Family MemberIdentifying Depression in Your Family MemberHelping a Family Member Get Help

When it comes to dealing with a depressed family member, it can be hard to know how you should act and what you can do to help. In order to have the most positive interaction with your depressed family, you should know how to approach them so that they don’t become defensive. Offering to talk about it is a good place to start.

Part 1
Interacting with a Depressed Family Member

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    Recognize that their illness is not your fault. If you have figured out that one of your family members is struggling with depression, it can be seem like you had something to do with it. But it’s not—depression makes it hard to for people to connect emotionally with their loved ones. In order to be available to this person and help them, it is important to understand that it’s not personal. [1]
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    Recognize that it is a real physical illness. When you are talking to a depressed family member, you have to keep in mind that they are dealing with an actual physical problem. It can be tempting to blame their mental disorder on decisions they have made, but recognizing that it’s not their fault can help you be less critical and more supportive.[2]
    • Keep in mind that your support can help them recover from depression.
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    Offer support. Your support of their recovery process is one of the most valuable things you can offer someone struggling with depression. Offering to let someone with depression talk about what they are feeling without judging them is an important part of recovery. It will help them feel less alone.[3]
    • You can also offer to help them find a support group, where they can talk to people who have been through what they are going through, to help them feel less lone.
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    Ask direct questions. In order to help your depressed family member, you need to know what they are experiencing. With depression, there are a lot of things that can be going on, so to get to the heart of it, you have to ask direct questions. You can prompt your loved on to explore why they are feeling depressed to help them get to the other side of it.[4]
    • Ask questions like:
      • “When did you first start to feel bad?”
      • ”Do you know what triggered these feelings?”
      • ”What makes it worse?”
      • ”What makes it better?”
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    Avoid telling the person to change. Demanding that your loved one change the way they feel is a pointless exercise, mostly because they don’t know how to change how they feel. You will feel frustrated when they don’t change, and they will feel angry toward you, perhaps even feeling more depressed than ever.
    • This can also trigger shame in them, which makes things even worse.
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    Avoid trying to fix the family member. If you try to rescue your family member, they will not learn for themselves how to manage feelings of sadness on their own. It is unlikely that you will be able to make the depression go away, and the fact that you are sticking your finger into their lives can trigger depressed relatives to feel frustrated with you.[5]
    • This will also lead you to have negative interactions with your loved one, such as when fixing it doesn’t work and you get angry with them.
    • Accept them for who they are and where they are emotionally.
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    Have a positive attitude. Develop realistic expectations for your depressed loved one and maintain an attitude full of hope for them. Your loved one can get help for depression, and they can change. There is hope, and if you keep this in the forefront of your mind, you can help them have hope as well.[6]

Part 2
Identifying Depression in Your Family Member

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    Notice if your family member has sad feelings. Sad feelings are the hallmark of depression, especially feeling sad when there is no cause for it. This feeling of sadness can weigh on your family member’s soul, and watching for signs of this extra sadness is key for identifying depression.[7]
    • Listen to them when they talk to see if they sound like they are very sad but they don’t know why.
    • They may also exhibit signs of tearfulness, feeling empty, and feeling hopeless.
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    Notice if they have a loss interest. Losing interest in things that used to get them excited is a classic sign of depression. Watch their behavior and notice if they start replying “no” frequently to activities that they used to love, as well as acting listless and bored most of the time.[8]
    • These are usually things like hobbies and sports.
    • People who are listless and have no interest in anything can also be lethargic, not wanting to move or do physical activity.
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    Notice increased irritability and angry outbursts. People with depression are sad about life and discouraged about things that used to make them happy, so they are not happy. Being unhappy can make you generally irritable, getting upset about small things on a regular basis. If someone in your family can’t seem to ever be happy, they may be depressed.[9]
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    Watch their sleeping patterns. People with depression tend to go to one extreme or the other when it comes to sleep. They either can’t sleep at all or sleep way too much. The inability to sleep is called insomnia, and if someone in your family starts complaining about insomnia, watch for other signs of depression.[10]
    • Sleeping too much is a way to escape having to feel negative feelings most of the time.

Part 3
Helping a Family Member Get Help

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    Educate yourself. Finding out for yourself how depression works is a good place to start in dealing with a depressed family member. This not only allows you to understand the way your family member’s illness works, but it shows that you are supportive and that they are valuable to you, all things someone with depression needs to feel.[11]
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    Talk about it as a family. A family member’s depression affects the whole family, not just the person dealing with it. Sitting down as a family to discuss it can help your depressed family member express themselves and feel supported. This also helps you discover what works and does not work.[12]
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    Meet their therapist. If your depressed family member agrees, you can meet with their therapist now and then to check on their progress. This way, you can see if what you’re doing at home is helping them or hurting them. The therapist can also educate you so that you can help even more.[13]
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    Go to a family therapist. It may help to seek out couples or family counseling to help everyone share their feelings about the family member’s depression alongside individual therapy for the depressed family member. This therapy can help restore relationships that have been disjointed by depression, especially marriages.[14]
    • Family counseling also helps children understand their role, clarifying that it is not their fault.
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    Help them build a support system. Offer to help your depressed family member find and build a support system. You can poll your friends to see if any of them have had depression and see if they can talk to your family member. You can find area support groups and see if your family member would be interested in joining one.
    • It’s also important for you to build a support system so that you don’t feel isolated and overwhelmed by taking care of a depressed family member.[15]
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    Help them shop for a therapist. Most importantly, encourage your depressed family member to seek out a therapist, offering to help them find one that meets their needs. You may have gotten a recommendation from someone, or have an insurance plan that requires you to look at specific therapists.
    • Your help can keep the depressed family member from feeling overwhelmed and giving up on the therapy process, which is very important for their success.


  • You can also show support by finding out what activities they enjoy and inviting them out to do one of them. This can help their self-esteem and remind them that things aren’t as bad as they seem.


  • Do not ignore suicidal statements. Get the depressed person in touch with professional help as soon as you hear statements questioning their existence or that are severely pessimistic.

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Categories: Family Life | Helping People with Depression