Depression is a serious mental illness, and major depressive disorder (MDD) affects how you feel, think, and behave. This can eventually lead to a variety of other emotional and physical problems.

When a family member or friend suffers from depression, your support and encouragement can play an important role in their recovery. Here are some key tips for what you can do and say to a loved one with MDD.

What You Can Do

Sometimes, knowing how to help is the hardest part. Here are some simple strategies to start:

  • Lead by example: It’s very important for your family member or friend to eat a proper diet, get adequate sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs. If you’re doing the same, they’re likely to be encouraged to do so too.
  • Get out: Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Research shows that exercise increases the release of different chemicals known to improve mood, behavior, and our ability to think. Ask your loved one to go for a walk with you or play a quick game of tennis. Any kind of physical activity is beneficial.
  • Don't sweep things under the rug: It’s never a good idea to cover up an issue, or lie for a friend or family member. This could prevent them from facing their situation and seeking necessary treatment.
  • Help them with their appointments: Encourage them to follow through with any planned treatment. And, if possible, join them during one of their appointment sessions.

What You Can Say

Sometimes it's not exactly what you say, it's how you say it. You might not have the answers all the time, but if you let them know that you’re there for them, it can mean everything. Most of all, talk to the person in a way that they they’ll understand, even in a moment of crisis.

Start by asking supportive questions. Don't make them feel that they’re being questioned or quizzed. You can ask:

  • When did you start feeling like this?
  • Was there something that happened to make you more upset?
  • Is there anything I can do to support you?

Also, give encouragement and offer hope. You can say:

  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.
  • When you feel like giving up, please talk to someone. I will always have a friendly ear for you.
  • I want you to know that I am here for you. You’re not alone.

Don’t Take Things Personally

When supporting a person with MDD, you should know that you can be there for them but you cannot “fix” them. This is something that will take professional care and may require long-term treatment.

While you may have the best intentions, know that feelings can easily get hurt. Try to keep your own emotional feelings out of the situation. It’s better to step away and remove yourself rather than enter into an argument. At the same time, having an honest conversation will actually help your relationship down the road. Keeping feelings inside can cause resentment and relationships can be destroyed.

Remember, that caring for someone with MDD can be stressful to you too. Make sure that you get help as well, through either group counseling or support group meetings. As you may know, talking to someone in the same situation can be extremely helpful. And having emotional strength yourself will allow you to provide the necessary support your friend or family member needs.