How to Support a Loved One Through Depression or Anxiety

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Family, friends, and colleagues are crucial players within the support network of someone suffering from depression or anxiety. If a person close to you is in the throes of mental health issues, the following points will give you, the supporters, some insight into what to do.

Recognize that something is not right.

By gaining awareness about the early signs of depression or anxiety, you should be mindful of the individual’s changing behavior. For depression, this can be done by considering the following.

Over the past few weeks, have you noticed that the individual:
– has become more isolated,
– has become more withdrawn,
– seems less energetic,
– is finding daily tasks very difficult to manage,
– is having trouble with concentration,
– is extremely indecisive,
– is less interested in daily activities,
– is frequently talking about failures and losses,
– is mentioning that nothing good will ever happen,
– is overeating or not eating at all,
– or is sleeping too much or very little?

On the other hand, individuals with anxiety may exhibit some of the following symptoms in different degrees.

Is the individual:
– feeling nervous, restless, or tense,
– expressing a sense of doom or panic,
– experiencing an increased heart rate, rapid breathing, sweating, or trembling,
– feeling weak or tired,
– having trouble concentrating,
– or having difficulty controlling worry and avoiding things that trigger anxiety?

Initiate a conversation.

A simple conversation can go a long way in helping an individual to feel that there is help available and that he or she is not alone. However, supporters should not force anyone to get help. The support person’s role should only be to address the subject with the individual. Before having the conversation, consider where the individual would feel safe and comfortable, as well as when he or she is most likely to be attentive.

Seek professional help.

To prevent self-diagnosis, the most practical step would be to encourage the individual to seek professional help. As a supporter, you may accompany them for the appointment to try to understand the ways in which you can offer practical help during this time. However, if they are already seeking professional help, then simply research by yourself how you could support them during your daily interactions.

Be open about difficult emotions.

As someone helping an individual recover from depression or anxiety, you should be open about difficult emotions so that the individual feels safe to speak about what he or she is experiencing.

Avoid venting out feelings.

Although the experience of depression and anxiety can be an overwhelming time for both supporters and the individual, you should be considerate and avoid making it clear to the individual how much of a burden this is on you.

Do not underestimate the power of listening.

While supporting someone with a mental health concern, it is necessary to offer the individual the space to speak about anything he or she wishes. This should be done without judgement or analysis. Avoid the urge to share advice after every point put forward by the individual. Maintain a calm composure and practice simply listening.

Be mindful of your language.

Supporters should avoid saying things like “This is all in your head” or “At least you have a family; there is no reason for you to be sad.” Try not to blame the individual or pressure them to feel better right away. They may already be very critical and harsh towards themselves. Your role as a supporter is not to cheer them up; it is to acknowledge that their pain is real.

Keep in touch regularly.

Provided that the individual is open to this idea, supporters should keep in touch and show genuine interest in seeing him or her get better. A gesture as small as sending a text message and letting them know that you are thinking of them can make a significant difference.

Don’t overdo it. Instead, ask the individual whether he or she would like to keep in touch regularly and what their preferred method would be. As for how you ask, make sure it is done discreetly and not reiterated during every conversation with the individual.

Offer sufficient help.

While it might be extremely beneficial to offer help, it is also important to encourage the individual to do things for him- or herself. Each individual needs a different type and a different amount of support, so talk to your friend or family member about what they might find useful to have your help with and identify things they can try doing themselves.

Offer practical support.

Some ways of offering practical help would be looking out for the symptoms of depression and/or anxiety after treatment has begun, and seeing how they evolve. You should also take topics such as “thoughts of death” very seriously and promptly get in touch with emergency services or a mental health center if the individual shows symptoms of a crisis at home or at work.

Prioritize self-care.

As a supporter, you should not underestimate the importance of looking after yourself. Your mental health is equally important and looking after someone else can put a strain on your wellbeing.

Remember, these are just a few points on what you should keep in mind while supporting someone with a mental health concern. There may be several nuances to these steps as each individual requires a unique approach. If these points raise further questions or issues in your mind, it would be helpful to consult a mental health professional.

Sneha John is a psychologist at LifeWorks Holistic Counseling Centre in Dubai. 

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