Six Ways to Help Someone With Depression

Have you ever had a friend or family member struggle with depression, and you weren't sure how to help? Maybe you were afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, in fear of making the person feel worse. Or maybe you just ignored it, hoping the person would get better on their own.

As a society, we're working to change the conversation surrounding mental health, including depression and suicide prevention. I'm encouraged by efforts of national organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America to help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

As a psychiatrist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, I'd like to offer these six suggestions of what you can do when you encounter someone who is depressed:

Listen. The first important step is to simply listen. Listening encourages the person to open up more, so that they'll tell you about signs of depression and desperation. A major cause of suicide is depression.

Ask. Encourage more conversation by asking more, which further shows that you care enough to know more about their struggles and depression.

Specifically ask: "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" This is one of the most important questions because asking decreases (not increases) suicidal thoughts. Asking about the possibility of suicide may save the person's life.

Love. Listening and asking show that you care. Listening with compassion and empathy and without dismissing or judging reflects love. That feeling of being loved may help someone reach out for help.

Act. Keep the person safe. Ask if they know how they would commit suicide, and separate them from anything they could use to hurt themselves.

Work to put time and distance between the person and their chosen method, especially dangerous ones such as firearms and medications.

Stay with the person until the crisis passes or they're connected to resources that can help them.

Link. If you think they might be in immediate danger, call 911.

Link them to National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (or 1-800-273-8255).

Link them to mental health treatment, as treatment works. We know that treatment decreases depression and reduces suicide.

Link them to other people who can provide support. Research has also shown connectedness with others acts as a buffer against hopelessness and psychological pain.

And remember to follow up after the immediate crisis passes, and repeat: Listen, Ask, Love, Act.

Advocate. Get informed and get involved. Start conversations to reduce the stigma.

Everyone can help raise awareness about the suicide epidemic. Did you know that each day, nearly 130 people in our country die by suicide? Equally important is raising awareness about suicide prevention.

Advocate for better access to mental health care. Advocate for more resources and treatments. Advocate for more funding for research to better understand and treat depression and suicide.

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