If you have a family member or friend who struggles with major depression or post partum depression, you will want to show them you care by providing support and encouragement as best as you can. Here’s how:

• Become educated. Learn about major Depression, Post Partum depression, Bi Polar Disorder, the signs and symptoms and how it affects the mind and the body. Learn about the difference between the “baby blues” and a full blown post partum depression, and about the milder depressive state of dysthymia. Learn about the dangers and signs of suicide. Encourage your loved one to become educated as well. Remember—knowledge is power. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to handle the challenge.

• Maintain an attitude of positivity and encouragement. Encourage treatment of all kinds. Whether it’s a consultation with a psychiatrist for medication or an appointment for psychotherapy, let your loved one know that treatment is a good thing and will only enhance their life. Treatment or taking Medication should never be looked upon as a “weakness”. Treatment should be a sign of strength and courage. In some treatments, couple or family based treatments are encouraged in addition to individual treatment. Your involvement in your partner’s or loved one’s treatment can be instrumental in their recovery.

• Provide praise and encouragement of healthy behavior, rather than criticizing the negative thinking or extremely sad feelings. Telling your friend or partner to “snap out of it” is just not going to work. When a person is depressed they often lose their desire to engage in life’s activities. Encourage your friend or family member to lead a healthier, mood-boosting lifestyle by encouraging them to join you in uplifting activities, like having dinner at a favorite restaurant. Exercise is especially helpful and should be highly encouraged. Going on walks together can be helpful and therapeutic. Be gently and lovingly persistent—don’t get discouraged or stop asking.

• Help your loved one set specific goals that are realistic and can be approached one step at a time.

• An individual’s response to treatment is highly personal. Don’t Measure progress by some standardized expectations or compared to someone else. Your loved one’s improvement may be slower than average. That’s ok—as long as it’s steady.

• As well as you may know your loved one, never assume you know what they need without talking to them first. Ask them how you can be of help, what their needs are and listen carefully to what they tell you. Listening in an attuned, empathic manner can be very helpful and therapeutic. It helps the person with depression feel validated and cared for.

• If you have never experienced depression yourself, you may never truly understand what it feels like to be in a state of major clinical depression, with feelings of extreme hopelessness and helplessness. Let your loved one know that although you don’t truly understand what it’s like, you’re here to help as best as possible.

• It is important to understand when to be patient and take a step back, and when and how to give that extra push. Achieving a proper balance often requires trial and error and lots of broadmindedness.

• Sometimes, with depressed individuals, the threat of suicide is real. It may be hard to believe that the person you know and love would ever consider something as drastic as suicide, but a depressed person may not see any other way out. Depression clouds judgment and distorts thinking, causing a normally rational person to believe that death is the only way to end the pain he or she is feeling.

When someone is depressed, suicide is a very real danger. It’s important to know the warning signs:
• Talking about suicide, dying, or harming oneself; a preoccupation with death
• Expressing feelings of hopelessness or self-hate
• Acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways
• Getting affairs in order and saying goodbye
• Seeking out pills, weapons, or other lethal objects
• Sudden sense of calm after a depression

If you think a friend or family member might be considering suicide, talk to them about your concerns as soon as possible. Many people feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic but it is one of the best things you can do for someone who is thinking about suicide. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a person’s life, so speak up if you're concerned and seek professional help immediately! And if you believe your loved one is at an immediate risk for suicide, do NOT leave the person alone. Call 911 immediately or take them to the nearest hospital emergency room.

• If someone you love is depressed, you may be experiencing any number of difficult emotions, including helplessness, frustration, anger, fear, guilt, and sadness. These feelings are all normal. It’s not easy dealing with a friend or family member’s depression. And if you don’t take care of yourself, it can become overwhelming. If necessary, you may need to seek your own professional help. It is also important to create and maintain a support system of family and friends who can help you and understand what you are going through. Continue to engage in activities and hobbies that provide stress relief and that help you maintain your positive energy and tranquility.

• Finally, you need to maintain healthy boundaries and set proper limits. Know what you are willing to do and where you might have to draw the line. Individuals with a major depressive disorder must take responsibility for their own recovery. No matter how much you love them, you can’t do it for them.