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What can you do to help someone suffering from depression who doesn't want your help? Sometimes the answer is "not a lot," but sometimes you can be very helpful. Here are some tips on what to do and what to avoid.

Untreated depression can have tragic consequences.

In March of 2015 the young copilot of a Germanwings jet airliner encouraged his senior pilot to take a break, barricaded himself in the cockpit, and calmly and deliberately crashed the plane, killing all 150 people aboard. At least as horrific as the act was the revelation, days later, that the copilot had been diagnosed with and had been receiving treatment for major depression. 

Violent acts by depressed people are, fortunately, rare. Depression, however, can be a debilitating condition. Friends and family can be helpful, but often aren't. This article suggests some basics for being truly helpful to a friend or family member who is depressed.

How Can You Tell Someone Is Depressed?

Different people experience depression in different ways, but there are recurring themes. If you are one of the more than 19 million teens and adults in the United States who have depression, the feelings do not go away. Here are some of the most common depression symptoms [1]:

  • People who are depressed lose interest in doing things for fun. Younger adults, children, and adolescents may also be irritated.
  • People who are depressed usually have significant disturbances in both sleeping patterns and weight. They may be unable to sleep, or they may want to sleep all the time. Adults who are depressed usually gain weight, but children who are depressed usually lose weight.
  • People who are depressed may feel life it not worth living or they are worthless.
  • People who are depressed usually having difficulty concentrating.
  • People who are depressed often suffer random aches and pains.
  • People who are depressed often abuse alcohol or drugs (prescription or otherwise) in an attempt to self-medicate.
  • People who are depressed may harbor, or just have repeatedly to deal with, thoughts of suicide.

Important Facts About Depression

Helping someone who is depressed requires understanding a few things about the disease. If you don't understand depression, your efforts may not be helpful. They may even make the situation worse.

No one can simply snap out of major depression.

Major depression is not always disabling, but it is not something that a depressed person can simply will away.

Most people who have depression do not cause harm to themselves or to others.

Typically, the internal moral compass and care for others win out over any impulses to do harm. Only about 1 in 5,000 men and 1 in 20,000 women in any given year (in the United States) commits either suicide or homicide. However, it is important to take threats of suicide, or homicide, seriously.

When someone who is depressed doesn't connect with you, it isn't necessarily "you."

Depression is not personal.  People who are depressed may lack the energy to think clearly or to exercise self-control. They may say things that upset you when they become angry, and regret them later.

Hiding depression won't make it go away.

It doesn't help to enable depression. (Consider the example of the mental health professionals who did not report the Germanwings co-pilot's suicidal musings.) Giving people excuses for not showing for work, not participating in social activities, or not living up to their obligations does not help them get better.

You can't "fix" someone else's depression.

Their recovery is ultimately up to them. However, you can be supportive, within boundaries.

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