Depression can be very difficult — not just for people who experience it first-hand, but also for their loved ones. If you have a friend or family member with depression, you may be able to offer them social support. At the same time, it’s important to set boundaries and address your own needs too.

The Risks of Caregiving

When someone you love is depressed, you may want to help them any way you can. However, it’s also important to take steps to protect your own mental and physical health.

If you attempt to provide care for someone with depression, you’re at risk of experiencing some degree of psychological distress too. One study found that caregivers of people with major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder were more likely to report psychological distress than caregivers who provide assistance to persons with other healthcare needs in the general population. They also reported lower quality of life.

Everyone experiences and reacts to depression differently. Some people with depression become physically or verbally abusive, while others become agitated or act recklessly. Some people react to depression by indulging in drugs or binging on alcohol. Some become so lethargic, they can barely get dressed, feed themselves, or tend to their basic hygiene needs.

When you’re caring for someone with depression, these behaviors may pose a threat to your own wellbeing. You may find it stressful or physically challenging to help them meet their daily care needs. You may even become a target of physical or verbal abuse.

Setting Boundaries

When you’re caring for someone with depression, it’s important to talk about behaviors that are unacceptable or dangerous. For example, consider the following guidelines and strategies.

Stick to the Treatment Plan

Social support is important, but it’s generally not enough to treat depression. If someone you know is coping with depression, encourage them to get professional help. Depression is a medical condition that can be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Tell the person you care about them, but you can’t help them alone. Explain why you think they need to seek professional treatment. Insist on them following their mental health practitioners’ advice. For example, they should agree to faithfully attend medical appointments. They should also take prescribed medications as directed. 

Stand Up to Abuse

If the person you’re caring for targets you with abusive language, tell them it’s unacceptable and they need to avoid that behavior.

If they’ve engaged in any sort of physical abuse or violence, insist that they stop. If you suspect your physical health is at risk, ask for help from family members or friends. If you live with this person, it may be necessary to involve local law enforcement officials. If you do not live with this person and you are being physically abused/assaulted, you may need to distance yourself until the person gets the help that they need.

Encourage Healthy Habits 

Encourage the person you’re caring for to channel their energy into constructive behaviors, such as exercise. Regular exercise lowers the risk of depression. It may also help them recover more quickly.

You should also encourage them to eat a healthy diet. Consider supplementing it with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (commonly found in fish oil). Low levels of these nutrients may raise the risk of depression.

One study found that many participants with depression had low levels of vitamin D. Three months of vitamin D supplementation helped relieve their symptoms of depression.

Another review suggests that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in some cases of depression. More research is needed to learn if omega-3 fatty acid supplements can effectively treat depression. The risks of taking omega-3 fatty acid supplements are low.

Keep Time for Yourself

Let the person you’re caring for know that you can’t be present 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You need some time for yourself.

Try to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. To manage your stress, make time for regular breaks and activities you enjoy.

The Takeaway

When you’re not healthy yourself, it can be hard to care for someone else. Take steps to prevent burnout, injury, and illness by setting realistic boundaries. Talk to the person you’re caring for about harmful behaviors. Encourage them to follow their recommended treatment plan, practice healthy habits, and respect your mental and physical health needs.