Person holding a framed picture of frowning face over their own face.

For people with depression, a healthy environment of family support is vital to their recovery. Even though depression can be a frustrating illness, family and friends can help in many ways.

Encourage Treatment and Rehabilitation

Depression is treatable. Medications, psychotherapies and self-help measures can help a depressed person feel better, engage in meaningful activities, and experience improved quality of life. The first step is to visit a doctor for a thorough evaluation. If possible, it is often helpful for family members to be present at the evaluation to offer support, help answer the doctor ’s questions, and learn about the illness.

Support for Medication Usage

Taking medication can be difficult. There will be times when the individual with depression may not want to take it, or may just forget to take it. If medication is prescribed, family and friends can provide valuable support to make sure it’s taken regularly. Encouragement and reminders from family members can help their loved ones fit taking their medicine into their daily routine[N1] .

Support for Therapy

An individual with depression may also be referred to psychosocial treatment and rehabilitation. Family members and friends can be very helpful in supporting therapy attendance. Some ways to encourage therapy attendance are giving reminders, offering support and providing transportation to the clinic[N2] .

Family Stress vs. Family Support

Family stress is a powerful predictor of relapse, while family support decreases the rate of relapse. Support can be provided in different ways. For example, family members can be a sympathetic ear. Talking about their feelings often helps depressed people feel better. Engagement in fun activities can be very beneficial in the process of recovery. Family members can help an individual with depression by encouraging enjoyable activities, such as invites to dinner, or just taking a walk.

It is best to be understanding rather than critical, negative or blaming. It may be difficult at times, but families do best when they are patient and appreciate any progress that is being made, however slow it may be.

Family Stress: Believing the Cause is a Moral Failure

For family members who have difficulty being supportive, it might be because of what they believe is causing the disorder. Studies show that family members try to make sense of depression by determining its cause. Family members who believe the cause of depression is “moral” believe it is caused by the individual’s personality — that the individual is weak, lazy, or lacking self-discipline. This belief leads family members to believe that the symptoms are controllable by their relative. The belief that people have control over, and hence are responsible for their symptoms, can lead to feelings of anger and may prevent family members from being supportive of their ill relative.

Family Support: Believing the Cause is Organic

Family members who believe the cause of depression is “organic” believe in the medical model of disease — that it is a medical illness. This belief helps family members understand that their loved one’s symptoms are not controllable, and therefore the individual is not responsible for their symptoms. This leads to greater feelings of warmth and sympathy and a greater willingness to help.

Research has shown that family members who hold a medical view of depression are less critical of their relative than those who hold a moral view. Your views of what causes depression are important because critical and hostile attitudes on the part of the relative are predictive of relapse.

Take Care of Yourself

Family members and friends should not feel responsible for solving the problem themselves. They can’t. It’s common to often feel guilty about spending time away from your ill relative, but it’s important that you take good care of yourself.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Don’t allow your ill relative to monopolize all of your time.
  • Spend time alone or with other family members and friends.
  • Make time to participate in activities that are important for your own well-being.
  • Join a support or therapy group. Counseling can often help family and friends better cope with a loved one’s illness.

Most importantly, get the help of a mental health professional if necessary. Remember, you cannot help someone else if you yourself are struggling. Make sure you join our private group on Facebook to connect with others who are supporting their loved ones through depression, too.

Want to Learn More?

Here are some other articles you might find helpful:

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Mind Matters Institute