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How to Help Someone with Depression

Your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you. Your beloved pet dies. Your hoped-for promotion at work falls through. We all feel sad or “blue” when bad things happen, but everyday sadness is not a depressive disorder. When you know how to help someone with depression, you can #BeTheDifference and connect them to the support they need.

Depression is a mood disorder, and nearly one in 10 U.S. adults will have a mood disorder in a given year. A person who is depressed will have an unusually sad mood and/or exhibit loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable. When these symptoms last for two weeks or more, it’s important to intervene, because a person who experiences depression once is more likely to have a repeat occurrence.

A person who is depressed also may sleep too much or too little, have trouble concentrating or making decisions, feel worthless and think often about death or wishing to be dead. Symptoms of depression affect emotions, thoughts, behaviors and physical well-being.

But there is help and there is hope. Mental Health First Aid can be the first step on a person’s road to recovery because it teaches you how to understand, recognize and respond to someone experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis. Mental Health First Aid offers a simple five-step action plan called ALGEE to help someone who is experiencing depression.

A    Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

When helping a person going through a mental health crisis, it is important to look for signs of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, non-suicidal self-injury or other harm. Mental Health First Aid teaches you the signs of suicidal behavior and makes clear that you should always seek emergency medical help if the person’s life is in immediate danger.

L     Listen nonjudgmentally.

It may seem simple, but the ability to listen and have a meaningful conversation requires skill and patience. Listening is critical in helping an individual feel respected, accepted and understood. Mental Health First Aid teaches you what might be helpful to say, including such things as, “I am concerned about you.” “How long have you been feeling this way?” “Have you spoken to anyone about this before?”

Mental Health First Aid also teaches you what isn’t supportive. Don’t tell someone who is depressed to “Snap out of it” or “Get over it.” You shouldn’t trivialize the person’s experiences by pressuring them to “put a smile on your face,” “Get your act together” or “Lighten up.” You shouldn’t belittle or dismiss the person’s feelings by attempting to say something positive like, “You don’t seem that bad to me.”

G    Give reassurance and information.

Depression is a real, treatable illness from which people can and do recover. When talking to someone you believe may be experiencing symptoms of depression, approach the conversation with respect and dignity and don’t blame the individual for their symptoms. Mental Health First Aid includes information and resources you can offer someone to provide emotional support and practical help.

E     Encourage appropriate professional help.

There are many professionals who can offer help when someone is in crisis or may be experiencing the signs and symptoms of depression. They include physicians, counselors and other mental health professionals and peer support specialists. Talk therapy, medications and other professional supports are available. The Mental Health First Aid course provides a variety of local and national resources to connect individuals in need to care.

E     Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

Individuals with depression can contribute to their own recovery and wellness by reaching out for support from family, friends, faith communities and others who have experienced depression (peer supporters). They can also use self-help strategies that include exercise, relaxation training, self-help books and a variety of apps. Mental Health First Aid helps you identify potential sources of support and practice offering these supports to the person you are helping.

When you learn the ALGEE steps, you can #BetheDifference for a family member, friend or colleague who is experiencing depression. What are you waiting for?

Look for a course in your area and equip yourself with the tools necessary to recognize and respond to a person facing a mental health or substance use challenge. You’ll be glad you did, and they will, too.

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