Are your relatives very helpful to you

Depression - information for relatives and friends

Living with the situation

Depression has many causes and can affect anyone. Nobody is to blame for the illness, neither you nor the sick person. It not only stresses those affected, but also people in the immediate vicinity - especially family and friends.

Various complaints can affect everyday life. These include, for example:

  • depressed, depressed mood

  • Loss of interest and joylessness

  • Lack of drive and fatigue

  • decreased focus and attention

  • decreased self-esteem and self-confidence

  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness

  • exaggerated fear of the future and "black eyesight"

  • Thoughts or attempts to kill yourself

  • sleep disorders

  • decreased appetite

  • physical complaints, for example fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, pain, shortness of breath, feeling of pressure in the throat and chest

What helps those affected

  • It can be helpful for someone with depression to be understanding of their situation and feelings. If you take him seriously with his illness without dramatizing it. At the same time, you should try to convey to him that help is possible and that he will be better in the future.

  • You can support the sick person to seek professional help - just as you would with other illnesses.

  • Many depressed people are afraid of being "crazy". Make it clear that such fears are not justified.

  • Maybe you can see yourself as a companion through a difficult time. It helps if you support the affected person: Start with small activities, such as going for a walk or listening to music together. A conversation can also be good.

  • It can help if you keep an eye on the treatment, such as taking the prescribed medication regularly or visiting the practice - but without giving the sick person a feeling of control.

  • Depressed people can be dismissive. But this is not aimed at you as a person, it is due to the illness. The person concerned is not always able to accept your suggestions. If you respect this without being offended, you will help a lot.

  • In no case should you downplay depression because it shows the person that you don't accept them, even if you mean otherwise.

Help with mental crises

Sometimes a depressed person finds their situation so hopeless that they simply don't want to anymore. He wants to end his life. This is stressful for family and friendships. Perhaps it will help you to realize that you are not responsible for it.

There is no silver bullet for such a situation. There is still something you can do: By allowing the conversation about it instead of pushing it away, and by accepting the other person in total desperation. Just listen without wanting to intervene right away. Dare to ask specific questions, but don't try to talk him out of his thoughts.

There may be more or less clear signs of such a crisis situation. Sometimes people use comments to indicate that they want to harm themselves. Relatives rarely notice that something is specifically planned. If you think you see an impending danger, you should:

  • listen and take the situation seriously

  • keep the conversation going

  • call 911 and the police

  • Do not leave the person alone until help arrives

  • remove dangerous objects

If there is a risk that a person will endanger himself or others, a hospital admission may be necessary - even against the will of the person concerned. The police are responsible for that.

What you can do for yourself

  • By encouraging the person concerned to accept professional help, you also relieve yourself. In some situations it is helpful to take part in joint treatment offers, for example family or couple counseling.

  • Find out about the disease and its effects. Knowing about depression can help you understand and support the person who has it. You can find detailed information in the patient guidelines: see "Explained in detail" below.

  • Dealing with a depressed person can mean that you forego a lot of things yourself: things that are dear to you, such as sports or culture. It may seem selfish to you to have fun while someone else is suffering. But the person concerned is not helped if you are not careful. And at some point you may lose the strength to be there for others.

  • Expect depression to take time to treat.

  • To master the challenge, you can seek help yourself, for example psychotherapeutic support. Anything that relieves you also helps the person you care for.

  • You can also turn to support groups. There are special offers for relatives.

September 2020, published by the German Medical Association and the National Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians