a person supporting a depressed loved one by listening

When someone you care about is dealing with depression , it can be challenging for both of
you. Depression is a complex and often misunderstood condition that can have a profound
impact on a person's life. As a friend or family member, you may feel helpless or unsure how
to provide support. However, there are practical strategies you can use to assist your loved
one during their journey to recovery. Learn tools for supporting a depressed loved one and
offer guidance on how to be their source of strength and comfort.

Understanding Depression

Depression is a mental health disorder that affects millions of people worldwide, and it's
important to recognize the signs and symptoms to offer effective support to your loved one.
Here's a deeper look at what depression entails:

Major Triggers

Depression can be triggered by significant life events, including the loss of a loved one,
divorce or the end of a long-term relationship, job loss, financial difficulties, and major
transitions like relocating to a new location and dealing with moving depression. These
events can disrupt a person's sense of stability and familiarity, leading to feelings of sadness,
anxiety, and uncertainty. Be vigilant in recognizing the emotional impact of these life
changes and seek support when needed to navigate the challenges they bring.

a pensive man sitting in the sand
Depression can have many triggers, especially during major changes

The Importance of Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. When it
comes to supporting a depressed loved one, empathy is your most powerful tool. Let your
loved one know that you are there for them and that you care about their well-being. Listen
without judgment and validate their feelings. Depression can be isolating, and knowing that
someone cares can make a world of difference.

Educate Yourself on Supporting a Depressed Loved One

One of the best ways to support a depressed loved one is to educate yourself about
depression. Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Understanding the
condition can help you empathize better and provide more informed support. There are
plenty of reputable sources online, or you can consult with a mental health professional for

Encourage Professional Help

Depression is a serious condition that often requires professional treatment. Encourage
your loved one to seek help from a mental health therapist or psychiatrist. Offer to help
them find a therapist or accompany them to their appointments if they are comfortable
with that. Remember that while your support is valuable, it cannot replace the expertise of
a trained mental health professional.

A therapist listening to a patient
Supporting a depressed loved one means encouraging professional help

Be Patient

Recovery from depression takes time, and it can be a bumpy road. Be patient with your
loved one and avoid pressuring them to "snap out of it" or "cheer up." Depression is not
something a person can control with willpower alone. Your loved one may have good days
and bad days, and it's important to be there for them consistently.

Offer Practical Assistance

Depression can make even simple daily tasks feel overwhelming. Offer practical help, such
as preparing meals, doing household chores, or running errands. These small gestures can
make a big difference in easing some of the burdens your loved one may be experiencing.

Stay Connected

Depression can lead to isolation, so it's essential to stay connected with your loved one.
Even if they withdraw or cancel plans, continue reaching out and inviting them to socialize
when they feel up to it. Your presence and support can help combat the loneliness that
often accompanies depression.

Encourage Self-Care

Encourage your loved one to engage in activities that promote their well-being, such as
exercise, eating nutritiously, and getting enough sleep. Offer to participate in these activities
together if they are open to it.

A man walking a dog in nature
Encourage outdoor activities and self-care

Avoid Making Assumptions

Every person's experience with depression is unique. Avoid making assumptions about what
your loved one needs or how they should feel. Instead, ask them directly how you can be
supportive and respect their boundaries.

Monitor for Suicidal Thoughts

Depression can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If your loved one expresses such
thoughts, take them seriously and seek immediate help. Contact a crisis hotline or take
them to the nearest emergency room if necessary. Your loved one's safety should always be
the top priority.

Practice Self-Care

Supporting a depressed loved one can be emotionally draining. Do not forget to take care of
your own well-being as well. Make sure you have a support system of your own, and
consider seeking guidance from a therapist or support group if you find it challenging to
cope with your loved one's depression.

Avoid Judging or Criticizing

Comments like "You have so much to be thankful for" or "Why can't you just be happy?" are
not helpful and can make your loved one feel more isolated. Remember that depression is
an illness, not a choice.

Celebrate Small Victories

Recovery from depression is not linear, and progress may be slow. Celebrate the small
victories and moments of joy with your loved one. It can be as simple as acknowledging
when they accomplish a task or expressing your pride in their efforts to seek help.

The Takeaway

Supporting a depressed loved one is not easy, but your presence and understanding can
make a significant difference in their journey toward recovery. Remember that depression is
a complex condition that often requires professional treatment, so encourage your loved
one to seek help from a mental health expert. Be patient and empathetic, and practice self-
care to maintain your own well-being throughout the process.

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Are you familiar with that that voice that is just below the surface, undermining your accomplishments, diminishing your strengths, and playing off your deepest insecurities and fears? This voice may follow you to work, accompany you to social gatherings, be by your side when attempting to accomplish your daily responsibilities, and whispering in your ear when you spend time with loved ones. What is this disapproving voice that sounds so much like our own, judging and demeaning us at every turn?  It's your inner critic.

This voice is commonly known in psychology as the “inner critic.” Freud called it the “superego,” scientists call it “survivor brain,” and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy refers to it as “automatic negative thoughts.” Whatever you call it, much of this internal dialogue arises from messages that were given to us starting in childhood by family, teachers, friends, and society. Over time, due to our own insecurities, challenges, and negative life experiences, this voice gets louder, stronger, and more persuasive. It becomes harder and harder to identify what is reality, and what is the inner critic attempting to sabotage our emotional wellbeing. 

This sounds grim, but there is good news. You don’t have to believe everything you think. Let me say that again-YOU DON’T HAVE TO BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU THINK. Humans have an average of 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day, 80% of which are negative. This negativity over time can lead to sadness, helplessness, agitation, fear, worry, and hopelessness. They say, “Change your thoughts, change your life.” But how do we do that, especially when this inner critic has become so strong and powerful over time?

The simple answer? It’s a process. It will take mindfulness, vigilance, and consistency to change the pervasive negative thought patterns of the inner critic. However, the inner peace, freedom, confidence, and happiness that result from doing so are beyond measure. Here are some tools to get you started on gaining freedom from your inner critic:

1. Peacefully Observe Your Inner Critic

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Oftentimes when we encounter something negative, or tendency is to try to suppress, avoid, fix, manage or control it. However, when it comes to negative thoughts, doing so often results in temporary relief, and the negative thoughts often resurface with a vengeance soon after. It can be helpful to think of your inner critic as a child throwing a temper tantrum. Let your inner critic know that you hear it, but do not give it more power than it deserves by engaging with it. Find a mantra that feels right to you, conveying the message, “Ok inner critic, I hear what you are saying, but I do not wish to listen or believe that.” Remind yourself that your thoughts are just words in your head, they are not facts. It is up to you to decide how much power you wish to give these words.

2. Investigate Your Inner Critic

The inner critic often exaggerates the negative in an attempted to keep you trapped in fear and hopelessness. Take some time to investigate what the inner critic is saying. For example, “You are a horrible parent.” Ask yourself, “Are my children alive? Are they fed/clothed/bathed? Am I doing the best I can?” Chances are, your inner critic is lying to you, taking one negative event combined with your own insecurities and stating the worst. Try asking yourself some general investigative questions, such as “Is this thought helpful? Is this thought true? What might my family and friends say about this thought? Am I blaming myself unnecessarily? What does the evidence in my life say about this thought?” This will help to expose the inner critic for what it really is-an irrational, illogical, and deceptive bully. 

3. Meditate

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Regular meditation practice allows you to become painfully aware of the endless chatter of the mind. As stated earlier, 80% of our thoughts are negative. Regular meditation practice will help you to gain experience in becoming mindful of your thoughts, detaching emotionally from these thoughts, and gaining the ability to pick and choose which thoughts you wish to engage with. Meditation is counterintuitive, so start small and keep your expectations low. The goal of meditation is not to be absent of thoughts. It is meant to help you gain clarity in how the mind works, and to avoid getting swept up and emotionally invested with your thoughts. 

4. Practice Self-Care

Sometimes it can be beneficial to “act as if” we love ourselves, and our thoughts will catch up with our actions over time. The inner critic is often developed through receiving messages that you are not good enough and don’t matter. By engaging in regular self-care activities, you are sending another more truthful message to your inner critic-that you are worthy of love and respect. Self-care comes in a variety of forms, such as setting limits with others, having realistic expectations, repeating positive affirmations, journaling, exercise, eating healthy, drinking water, getting a massage, reaching out for help, dancing, singing, and resting. Find out what gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling and run with it. Send the message to your inner critic that you are not believing it’s lies anymore by treating yourself with kindness and compassion.   

Battling your inner critic is not an easy task, but it is worth the fight. Remember, despite your past, challenges, and struggles, you deserve happiness. Don’t let anyone or anything tell you otherwise. 

– Alexandria (Alex) Fairchild, LCSW

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