It can be very frustrating when someone close to us is suffering from depression or a related mental illness, and yet refuses to seek or accept any sort of help or treatment for their condition. Many people feel helpless or powerless when someone they care about is depressed and yet refuses to accept any kind of help. This article is intended to help people who are put in the position where someone dear to them is suffering from depression but does not seem open to any suggestions of therapy, counseling, or other types of help.
In many cases, there are quite a few simple things that you can do that will help a person to recover from depression, even if that person seems to refuse to seek treatment or accept any sort of help. Depression is complex, and there is often no quick-fix, but there are a few straightforward pieces of advice that, if followed, can make it much more likely that you will actually be able to help out a person who is struggling with depression.
Take care of yourself first:
One of the core defining features of depression is that a depressed person has both a negative self-image and often, a negative image of the world, which can include other people. A depressed person does not believe in themselves and their own abilities, and often, may seem to hold or act out a negative view of other people around them. When a person seems irritable or mistrustful, it can be helpful to make a note that the person’s actions are more a result of their overwhelming negative mood, and not any deeper qualities.
Do not take it personally when you try to help someone who is depressed and yet they refuse or react negatively. You cannot control how a person is going to respond, but you can control your own actions and your own interpretation of the situation. If you tell yourself a narrative that involves negative statements about the person, like “They are being so rude or insensitive.” or “They don’t want help, I am never going to be able to help them.” then you will just get upset, dragged down with this person’s depression, and this will make it much harder for you to help them. Instead try to brush it off by making your internal dialogue more empowering: “They must be under a lot of stress or dealing with a lot of pain if they would act that way towards me.” or “Maybe this is not the best time or place to bring this subject up; perhaps I can try again later or find a more gentle way of broaching the subject.” With these interpretations, you will protect your own emotional well-being, and you will also remain more empowered to help the person out later.
Be cautious of recommending therapy to a person:
Although therapy or counseling can be one of the most powerful and effective ways of treating or overcoming depression, bringing up the subject of therapy to a depressed person can sometimes be difficult. Understanding why this is the case is important, even critical, if you want to actually help someone who is struggling with depression.
Unfortunately, the practice of seeing a counselor often carries a negative stigma in our society. The implication is that a person would only need therapy if they were “messed up”, “crazy”, or unable to cope with things on their own. Some people identify the act of seeking therapy with helplessness and mental instability, and depressed people are more likely to make this identification, as they are likely feeling rather helpless or unstable themselves. If you bring up the topic of counseling or therapy, make sure to do it in such a way that does not imply that the person is crazy, messed up, or unable to cope with their problems.
Help the person to believe in themselves first, before suggesting counseling:
Ultimately, you will be most able to help someone who is depressed if you help that person to believe more in their ability to help themselves. This belief is also an important foundation to successful outcomes of counseling: if a person believes that they are unable to help themselves, they may easily transfer this to believing that a counselor is also unable to help them. Counseling does not provide a quick fix or instant solution to depression or other psychological problems. Counselors do not help people through therapy as much as they enable and empower people to help themselves. The best way to bring up the topic of counseling is to emphasize first that the person is fundamentally okay and that they are going to be able to solve their problems in the end. Then, you can suggest counseling as a way of helping make this process easier–never presenting it as necessary or as a crutch that a person will be dependent on or hopeless without.
Help through more general means:
Continuing on the theme that the best way to help a depressed person is to help them believe in themselves, there are numerous other things you can do, besides encouraging them to seek help, which can help them to overcome their depression. The simplest, deepest, and best thing that you can do is to show them that you love and appreciate them, through both your actions and words. Depressed people often feel trapped in loneliness and a sense of worthlessness; it is a lot harder to feel worthless when people are telling you and showing you that they appreciate you. By checking in on someone, inviting them to do things, eating with them, and telling them the things that you appreciate about them, you can make it a little easier for that person to overcome depression. Remember, though, that in the end, their responsibility for their own health and happiness lies with them alone, and yours with you.
You may also benefit from reading Alex Zorach’s guide on how to help someone with depression, which gives specific things to say and do that can help a depressed person. Alex Zorach also publishes photographs and writings on a variety of topics on his website, taking an integrated approach to psychology, politics, religion, and science. If you enjoyed this article, you will find much more of the same on this site.
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