How to Help a Depressed Elderly Relative

If you know a relative who has had bad memories in his/her life, it is always good to remind them that nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.


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    Research. If you don't know much about depression, it's harder to recognize if your family member really is depressed. It's not hard to learn a lot about depression. There are websites, books, magazine and newspaper articles, and of course, many doctors. Look it up and determine what type of depression your family member has or may have. Look over the symptoms, various medications and other treatments. The more you know, the easier it is to help.
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    Listen. Although you may think that the last thing your relative wants to do is talk to you about depression, you could be wrong. Sometimes a friend just needs someone to talk to. Actively listen without judging or giving advice. Depression is an issue that people sometimes feel they must hide, in order to maintain their usual life. Either that or they are only just coming to terms with it themselves, let alone the idea of letting other people in on it. However, from time to time, your relative may open up, or express the desire to talk to you. When this happens, be understanding and kind. Don't interrupt, don't try to convince them they're wrong, and try not to react in horror. It can be difficult to hear about how terrible your friend feels, but remember that they're trusting you. Value this trust and keep it close.
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    Acknowledge. Tell the person suffering from depression that you've noticed that they seem down or depressed lately.
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    Find out why your relative is depressed. Did they just have a bad break-up or did their parents get divorced? Ask them if there is anything you can do to help. Ask carefully and gently, don't get upset if they're slow to tell you. Some people take longer than others to talk. If they say they don't have a reason, it's probably true.
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    Try to understand. Every person's story is different, and so it is impossible to completely understand. However, keeping an open mind and putting yourself in your friend's shoes can help you come closer to them. Once you've done your research, you should know a lot more about depression. Apply the symptoms and emotions to yourself, and contemplate how you would feel if this was happening to you. Call upon things your friend has done or told you, and try to understand why and what they mean. In times of need, having someone understand can be all the relief in the world.
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    Don't tell your elderly relative that life is still worth living and that this situation will improve and the sadness will get better. This trivializes their pain and will not help.
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    Be patient. Because depression is heavy, slow moving and unpredictable, it can frustrate and even anger those who are trying to help. Remember that depression is a complex disease, and try to understand that the depressed person is not herself or himself right now. If your relative doesn't seem to appreciate your efforts, or is pushing you away, don't walk off in a temper. Give them space or give them comfort if they need it, and be there for them, no matter how much they believe you don't need to be.
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    Advise them to seek professional help. Depression is not something that goes away by itself after a while. This is probably the most difficult step. Sometimes, a depressed person is more than happy to talk about it, go to a therapist, have people know, and start the healing process. But other times, they will argue, refuse, deny things, and often get angry and defensive. It is a serious mental illness. However, just because your friend doesn't want you to get involved, it doesn't justify you standing there and letting the problem get worse. Be sensible. If your friend is sounding like they are harming themselves or are thinking of suicide, you need to alert somebody.Encourage the person to start with a family doctor or local mental health associations. Offer to help them find resources or counseling services.
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    Bottom line (and this is from a depression sufferer): This is an evil disease. And you MUST know it IS a disease. Chemicals in the brain have become unbalanced for whatever reason and an "outsider" can no more expect a diabetic to cure him/herself than they can expect (or tell) a person with depression to "pick themselves up; you have a great life". And, trying to show them how they DO have a great life or how someone else "is much worse off than they are" is BAD advice. Repeat BAD. While you may think you are doing the rational, correct thing, you are not. Why? Because the person with depression will think "they're right...I do have a good life or that person IS much worse off than I am...BUT...I still can't feel better. LOOK AT ME! I'm a true weakling who has no reason to be depressed. Now I feel even worse because I can't get myself out of this and because I don't have anything to be depressed about". Then, things go from bad to worse. Listening and expressing your concern and sympathy is best. Get them to try to find a good counselor (it may take a few tries) try medication (and stick with it for at least 3 weeks...although that long a time is an absolute LIFETIME to the depressed)...give them things to look forward to each day or every other day...prayer...and, sadly, just plain old "time". This disease takes it's own sweet time to get flushed out of one's brain.
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    The best thing I heard during one depression period was from a friend who sincerely and simply said "Man, I feel so bad for you." That was it. That simple phrase. I had a good cry for a couple minutes and then I started to feel a bit better. For me, it was actually hearing someone NOT try to solve this disease for me with "rational" was just knowing of his care and concern for me in my illness that helped me more than any professional counseling or medication. Sometimes it happens that way...simple caring is always best.


  • Don't press them too hard. Talk on their terms and only go as deep as they go. Otherwise they will just turn away from you
  • Waiting for them to confront the problem with you can be hard, hint that you're there for them to hurry the process.
  • Offer to be there for your relative. Letting them know that you are there for them makes them feel more self-confident.
  • Do not compare their lives to others.
  • Keep them talking, talking helps but give them ways to work out their problems privately too, and basically lay out all of their concerns.
  • Suggest that they get a furry pal if they are feeling lonely from a loss of family member.
  • A good place to research on depression and suicidal info. is on
  • Sometimes they just want to have their room. Don't start spitting out possible solutions until you know the full extent of the problem.
  • Look at it from their point of view. Don't trivialize something that looks small to you but to them it is a mountain that looks impossible to climb.

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Categories: Helping People with Depression | Aged Care