How to Support a Family Member with Depression or Anxiety

How to Support a Family Member with Depression or Anxiety

When family members understand depression and anxiety, they can be key people to help someone recover. Here are some basic tips for friends and family members.

Understand depression and anxiety are not caused by a single event.

Depression and anxiety are medical illnesses caused by chemical imbalances that happen because of genetics, biology and stress. No one thing can be blamed for causing depression or anxiety symptoms. That belief is too simplistic and not helpful in recovery.

You can’t fix it.

When someone is hurting, it’s often our desire to make it all better. Partners and parents are often times fixers. They want to be the one that makes it all better.

Depression and anxiety are medical illnesses. They need professional treatment. Usually, this requires a combination of behavioral changes, medication, relationship changes and therapy

Support your loved one in getting treatment.

Most people with depression and anxiety get better with the right kind of treatment. Tell your family member to do what the doctor says; help them remember to take the medications. Encourage him or her to go to see a therapist, but don’t pry about what he or she talked about with their therapist. Tell your loved one things like…

  • I’m proud of you for getting help.
  • Treatment works!
  • With help, you will be yourself again.

Listen and validate feelings and thoughts.

Depressive thoughts and feelings are not always logical, but the feelings make sense to the person feeling them. You don’t have to agree with what your loved one feels or says. But you can validate their feelings as real, even if they don’t make sense to you, with statements like…

  • It must be hard to feel that way.
  • It makes sense you feel that way.

Listen without judgment. Seek to understand your loved one’s experience without saying how you or someone else might handle it.

Offer to go to doctor and therapist appointments.

It can be very helpful to have a second person hear the recommendations of the professional. Ask the professional questions about the diagnosis, treatment plan and what you can do to help and support your loved one.

Don’t take things personally.

When someone is depressed or anxious, he or she can be difficult to be around. At times, it might get personal. It can be helpful to detach emotionally a bit and remember that the things your loved one says are symptoms of depression or anxiety. At the same time harsh or demeaning talk is never OK.

See a therapist for yourself.

A therapist can offer you a unique perspective in this situation and provide an unbiased listening ear regarding your situation and perspective. It’s important to know that your perspective really does matter. In your situation, it is a dance to know what to say and when to say it. Relationships matter; the bottom line is that everyone needs to know they are accepted and loved.

Clients often tell me, “I just don’t want people to think I am crazy.” I feel this comes down to that basic feeling of, “are you ok with me?” Keep on providing support, but also know you have limits.


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