how to help a depressed family member

Stress is definitely contagious. The stress of one family member can impact the entire family unit. I know when my partner is stressed out, I definitely take that on myself, and then our kids have two stressed out parents to contend with, and their own emotional well-being is impacted. With that in mind, it’s important to address your loved one’s stress, providing them with support while also maintaining the health of your family. Here are six ways you can be your partner’s support system when they are struggling.

Let them feel their feelings!

Has anyone ever felt calmer after being told to “calm down”? No one ever feels better when they’re told that their feelings or situation is no big deal, or when their anxieties are dismissed with a “You’ll be ok.” Instead, allow your partner to feel their feelings. Validate their experience. The truth is, stress is such an intensely internal feeling, and a personal one, too – we aren’t privy to the past experiences and emotions that lead up to our partner’s struggles. But we don’t have to understand it in order to validate it. We can just say, “This sounds really tough, and I am so sorry you’re going through this.” Let them know that you take their pain seriously. This not only helps alleviate some of the stress, but can also really help in continuing to build a bond of trust between you and your partner.

Listen with a purpose

Listening is both a gift and a skill, and something we can always get better at doing. First, just let your partner talk it out. Sometimes just having a willing ear can help your partner process through their struggles, and often, they come to their own solutions just by talking it out. Talking through it can also help your partner recognize that their stress is intensified or magnified by an unrelated trauma. Allow them to talk through it first, before offering input. Often, when we jump in with solutions that may seem obvious to us, our partners may feel silly, or become resentful. Once they are through talking, ask them what sort of support they would like from you. Do they want help brainstorming solutions? Or do they just need a trusted person to which they can vent?  

How to help a depressed loved one

Keep to the schedule

When one person in a tight-knit unit, like a family, is struggling, it’s easy to let that derail everyone. However, you should really try to maintain your family’s daily schedule as much as you can. Sometimes this means taking on more when your partner simply can’t. This creates a stable foundation for your family, and can actually provide comfort to your stressed-out partner. Remember, families run on cycles, and there may be times when you need support, and your partner will have to step in and help you. The purpose is to create a family that has the capacity to support each other and continue to function, even when life gets hard.

Foster an environment of gratitude

Practicing gratitude is something all families should do, all the time, because it truly shifts perspective, and can create resiliency that helps carry them through times of stress. There are lots of ways to incorporate gratitude. Help your partner identify things for which they are thankful. Just make sure you do it at a time when your partner can be receptive to it. Then, if you haven’t already, try to incorporate practicing gratitude daily. This can be done together in a few minutes, as a family, just by sharing one positive moment in your day, and asking your loved ones to share theirs.

Look for professional support

Stress is a part of life, but if your loved one is battling it habitually, or seems to struggle to get through periods of stress, it may be time to find a professional to help. Continuous stress can lead to health problems. It also causes unnecessary strain to your partner’s mental health, and the health of your family. There is no reason for your loved one to suffer when there are so many ways to effectively help treat them.

Don’t forget yourself

The safest way to save someone from drowning is to make sure your own life jacket is secure before jumping in the water. In other words, you have to take care of yourself in order to effectively take care of others. In addition to sticking to your family’s routines as much as possible, make sure you carve some time out for yourself, to engage in self-care. Taking care of someone is hard work. In Along with providing them with the support they need during their time of need, you are also pulling double duty to make sure your family unit keeps operating. It’s a lot! Doing something for you can help you maintain the strength you need to keep things going and help prevent caretaker burnout and resentment.

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