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Helping a loved one through depression

Chances are, someone you know and love suffers from depression. Twenty million Americans suffer from the disorder, the hallmarks of which include an overwhelming sense of fatigue, hopelessness, sadness and lack of interest in normal, everyday activities—even basics like eating and sleeping. Prodding a loved one onto the road to recovery can be difficult. Many people who suffer from depression don’t realize it, and they may respond to suggestions of getting help with anger and irritability.

If you’re close to someone who may be depressed, you can gently offer support and encouragement. Up to 90 percent of people who have depression—even those with very serious cases—will get better, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. You can help by:

  • Urging professional care. Depression isn’t just a blue mood—it’s a medical condition that needs treatment. Point out how a medical condition, such as thyroid disease, can cause similar symptoms. Your loved one may feel more comfortable starting with his or her family doctor. Or find and suggest another professional like a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Consider marital or family therapy.
  • Pitching in. People who are depressed often lose interest in everyday tasks and events. Don’t wait to be asked to help. See what needs to be done—grocery shopping or carpooling kids—and tell your loved one you’d like to take over these tasks if it’s OK.
  • Being positive. Depression can cause people to ruminate on the negative. Remind your loved one of his or her great qualities like loyalty or kindness, even physical attributes such as a great smile.
  • Encouraging exercise. Suggest signing up for an exercise class together. One study found patients undergoing a 16-week aerobic exercise program reported their symptoms improved as much as those taking anti-depressants but more slowly.
  • Being patient. Don’t tell someone who’s depressed to “snap out of it” or “get over it.” Depression is an illness, and like any illness, it takes time and treatment to improve. In fact, most patients getting medical attention feel better in six to eight weeks.