How to Help Someone Who is Depressed


Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between depression and just a case of the blues. As people age, problems and situations arise that could cause anyone to feel depressed: the death of a loved one; feeling lonely; diagnosis of a chronic illness; having a tough time getting used to retirement. It's normal to feel sad when these things happen.

However, after a period of feeling sad, we should adjust and regain some emotional balance. But people with clinical depression don't get over those feelings. If a person is suffering from clinical depression and doesn't get help, the depression could last for weeks, months or even years. It causes a person to no longer enjoy the activities they usually like, and even lead to thoughts of suicide.

If you think someone you love is suffering from depression, don't ignore the problem. Here are some practical suggestions for helping someone with depression.

Watch and Listen for Signs

Listen carefully if someone complains about being depressed or says people don't care. That person may really be asking for help. Look for warning signs of depression, such as crying, sadness that lasts for extended periods, social withdrawal, and lack of interest in activities and friends.

Don't be Embarrassed

The first step is to accept that your family member needs help. You may not be comfortable with the subject of mental illness. Many people believe that a depressed person can quickly "snap out of it" or that some people are too old to be helped. They are wrong.

Bring Up the Subject Carefully

Instead of plunging directly into a tough discussion about therapy or treatment, try asking what's going on. "I've noticed you haven't been sleeping well." "You seem so sad lately. You don't seem like yourself. Are you okay?" Being tactful and using gentle probing will not instantly put the elder on the defensive.

Try to Overcome Resistance Gently

Your parent might resist the idea of seeing a doctor because he or she is embarrassed or afraid. Try to help them understand that a diagnosis of depression doesn't mean they are "crazy" and they are not going to be hauled away to a nursing home.

Seek Professional Backup

If your parent repeatedly brushes off your attempts at discussion, talk to your parent's doctor yourself. Tell the doctor your concerns, behaviors you've noticed and your parent's resistance to get help. Older people are sometimes less resistant and more willing to listen to a doctor who urges them to get help. The doctor or mental health specialist can start by making a phone call. A telephone call can't take the place of the personal contact needed for a complete medical checkup, but it might inspire the person to go for treatment.

Don't Let Cost be a Factor

Don't let the cost of treatment stop your loved one from getting help. Often, only short-term therapy is needed, and it is usually covered by insurance. Also, some community mental health centers may offer treatment based on a person's ability to pay.

Be Involved in Treatment

You can help your relative stay with the treatment plan. If needed, make appointments for the person or go along to the doctor. Get your relative to go on outings with you or go back to an activity that he or she once enjoyed. Encourage the person to be active and busy, but not to take on too much at one time.

Get A Second Opinion When Needed

Some family doctors may not understand about aging and depression. If your doctor is unable or unwilling to help, you may want to talk to another health care provider.

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!


I think that you need to have a psychiatrist evaluate him and perhaps prescribe more appropriate meds. A geriatric psychiatrist would be best. Often appointments are far in advance, so get started ... and state that you would be available if a cancellation comes up sooner.

Good luck!
I am a senior citizen and can fully understand why we become depressed. You are invited to one of your children's home and try to be part of the conversation and are interrupted when talking or completely cut-off. I feel as though I have had a lobotomy, by no means am I stupid or incapable of reading and understanding what I read. I feel as though I should just sit there and keep my mouth shut or stay home. I am a lucky person that has had breast cancer, this was about 23 years ago, chemo but never missed a day of work as a purchasing agent in a hospital, retired 10 years ago and moved to Florida. Then had a lower partial denture made here by what I would classify as a incompetent dentist, he could not adjust the appliance properly, continous irritation of the tissue and several biopsies. This led to cancer in my mouth and again surgery to explore the lower jaw bone to see if had spread into the bone, also about 5-1/2 years ago was diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell lymphoma, only 60 known cases in the world, again chemotherapy and radiation. I am in remission and have been for 5 years. I am not looking for sympathy, never would I ask for any. Just try to treat us like we are still alive and not totally worthless. I also have less than 50%
usage of my lungs, arthritis of my knee and degenerative discs in my spine. Everyone is going to get old, so good luck.
My 81 year old husband has been clinically depressed (untreated) since he was a child. Therapy began shortly after we were married 46 years ago. About 10 years ago he began anti-depressants prescribed by his PCP. Since 2000, he's had some critical health issues and recovered nicely after each one, except his last one. First he had colon cancer, then double heart bypass, then a half-hip replacement followed by 4 additional surgeries on the same hip. Recovery has been long and difficult. Then, he fell and cracked the hip on the other side. Pins and metal shafts in both thighs. His mobility has been severely curtailed. He is in his second round of PT but doesn't want to do any exercises at home. Doesn't want to try. He's on high doses of Celexa and Wellbutrin but acts and says he is still depressed. His aging is coming on fast and wasn't emotionally prepared for the changes he's experiencing. His will is evaporating before my eyes. I believe I need to have a psychiatrist evaluate him and perhaps prescribe more appropriate meds. Should he be seen by a MD who treats oldsters exclusively? Thank you, I'm feeling the urgency for new action. ----Sandy