Nearly everyone experiences nervousness, a sense of worry or sadness at times, but for some people these feelings become a part of day-to-day life and can really affect one’s daily functioning. Anxiety disorders affect around 14% of the adult population every year, while depression affects around six percent of the adult population annually.

As troubling as anxiety and depression can be for its sufferers, sometimes it’s not easy watching a loved one go through it, while you sit on the outside, feeling somewhat helpless. You might feel tempted to dig until you uncover the truth so you can help, but at the same time, you want to respect their privacy and autonomy.

At times, caring for a person with anxiety or depression can be difficult, and it’s not unusual for a carer to experience anger, guilt or fear. Learning about anxiety or depression can help you to understand why a person with the illness/condition/experience acts in a certain way. This acquired knowledge may help you to separate the illness from the affected individual, and realise that their mood, behaviour and reactions are not necessarily directed at any person in particular. Meanwhile, it is important for family members and friends to avoid ‘burnout’ by looking after themselves as well as their loved ones. Make sure you spend time doing things you enjoy. This will help to ease tension, limit the stress of the situation, and ultimately make you a more balanced support for your loved one.

Here are some general Do’s & Don’ts to deal with people suffering from depression:

DO’s – Or things that may allow you to help someone

  • Spend time talking about their experiences
  • Indicate that you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour / emotions / feelings
  • Let them know you’re there to listen without being judgmental
  • Highlight the option of seeing a doctor or health professional
  • Recommend and/or assist them to make an appointment
  • Go with the person to the doctor or health professional
  • Check in with them – asking how their appointment went
  • Assist them in finding information about anxiety or depression
  • Talk openly about their feelings
  • Encourage them to try to get enough sleep, exercise and to eat well  
  • Encourage them to use self-help strategies (e.g. breathing exercises)
  • Encourage them to face their fears with support from their doctor / psychologist

DON’Ts – Or things that can be unhelpful

  • Pressure them to “just relax” or “calm down”  
  • Stay away or avoid the person
  • Pressure them to manage how they’re feeling with drugs or alcohol
  • Assume that you can make them feel less anxious on your own  
  • Help them avoid situations that make them feel anxious  
  • Assume the problem will just go away

Try to stay on the same team

The enemy is the illness, and not the person with depression. Team up to tackle depression rather than allowing it to drive the relationship apart. Actively work to help your loved one get better, whether it’s taking a daily walk together, providing a ride to a doctor’s appointment or ensuring that medication is taken.

Don’t get bogged down in stigma or angry feelings

Dealing with a partner’s depression can provoke anger and resentment, especially if they often make excuses for social absences, or if some responsibilities might need to temporarily shift. 

When a person acts withdrawn and unaffectionate, they tend to push people away, physically & emotionally. There is also a sense of shame attached to having a mental health disorder, which can prevent a depressed person from seeking help for a treatable illness.

Help your loved one get a proper diagnosis and treatment.

The illness might prevent a depressed person from recognising they need help or seeking it out, so it’s often the family member/friend who will express concern and suggest an action plan.

To broach the topic, say, “I love you but I hate watching you suffer. Depression is a common problem and you shouldn’t be ashamed of having it, so let’s find out more about this illness together”.

Show receptivity

Encourage a depressed friend to talk about the way he or she is feeling, thinking or acting, and listen without passing judgment. If someone is in a bad depression, you might hear things that could freak you out. For example, a depressed spouse might question their love for their partner or interest in staying together.

Offer to go to doctor visit

It’s incredibly helpful to see a depressed patient along with their significant other, because the partner is often a wealth of information and observation. A friend/partner may be the first to notice behavior changes in a loved one and these insights are valuable during treatment.

Be patient with the treatment process

A certain amount of trial and error in treatment is to be expected. But the good news is that doctors can often help people with depression feel better and function better with a combination of medication and talk therapy. With time and treatment, depression can lift.

When a person has depression, that person goes through bad periods and good ones. The treatment process can take a while. In the meantime, the caregiver should turn to a therapist who can guide them in understanding & dealing with their loved ones’ depression, while taking care of themselves for emotional support, especially when feeling overwhelmed or aggravated.