Family members or close friends may feel compelled to intervene to encourage a person to seek help for their depression. There are ways to do so that are more helpful than others.

Depression, also known as major depressive disorder, is a severe mood disorder that often requires treatment. The signs can be subtle or more prominent. Some people may not realize they need help or may be reluctant to seek it out.

Depression affects an estimated 5% of adults worldwide. Though females have a higher diagnosis rate, evidence suggests males may sometimes not receive a diagnosis or treatment due to difficulties discussing feelings, recognizing symptoms, or seeking help.

This article discusses when a person can consider an intervention for depression, ways to approach intervening, and treatment options for depression.

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Intervening when a person has depression may help improve their quality of life and boost their mood. If the symptoms are severe, it might help prevent self-harm or suicidal ideation.

Depression help can come from mental health professionals, as well as from friends, family, and community members, such as religious communities or other organizations.

Before intervening, a person needs to recognize the signs of depression accurately. Though not everyone will present the same way or with all of the symptoms, common ones include:

Others may show other behavior changes, such as:

  • engaging in harmful or reckless behavior
  • self-isolation from friends or family
  • an increase in drug or alcohol use
  • becoming more pessimistic
  • changes in sexual desire or performance
  • difficulty fulfilling responsibilities at home or work

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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People close to someone showing signs of depression may feel the need to intervene if the condition is affecting their personal life or work. They may also choose to intervene if they are concerned the individual may harm themself or others.

If a person shows obvious signs of suicidal intent or self-harm that may be life threatening, it is important to contact emergency services immediately.

Learn more about depression.

If a person believes an individual may need professional help for depression, they can try the following:

  • encouraging them to share their feelings and listening without judgment, which may include asking questions or expressing concern
  • providing reassurance of support along with information about treatment
  • respecting their dignity and feelings
  • encouraging them to seek professional help

A person can also encourage them to seek help from others in their community. This can include:

  • friends
  • family
  • support groups
  • religious communities, if applicable

It is important to avoid:

  • blaming the person for their depression
  • telling them to “get over it” or expressing similar sentiments
  • becoming angry or withdrawn from the person
  • nagging or pressuring the person to get help

Learn about how depression feels.

Several treatments may help people with depression improve their overall quality of life.

Options include:

  • medications
  • psychodynamic therapy, which examines unconscious thoughts and early experiences to help with self-awareness
  • supportive therapy, which helps strengthen a person’s ability to manage stress
  • mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which may help a person modify unhelpful thoughts and feelings
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which allows a person to explore the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors
  • behavioral therapy, which focuses on the relationship between behaviors and mood
  • cognitive therapy, which helps with modifying pessimistic or unhelpful thoughts
  • brain stimulation therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

The following sections provide answers to common questions about depression.

What are the three basic approaches to treating depression?

No treatment for depression fits every person. Mental health professionals use several approaches. These can include:

What are skill-building activities for depression?

Skill-building activities help a person develop coping strategies for depression. This can include learning to adapt thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or a combination of the three. Therapists can help people develop skills they can apply throughout their daily lives.

Depression interventions may help a person living with the condition seek help. Effective interventions involve listening to the person, suggesting help, and providing support as needed. A person should avoid making judgemental comments or blaming the person for their depression.

Treatment approaches can include various forms of therapy, medication, and community support from friends, family, and other community members. A person may need continuing support to help them through their treatment.