How to actually help a loved one who seems depressed over the holidays

This season may be your favorite time of year (spiked hot
chocolate, awesome-yet-terrible holiday movies on Netflix, all the
good vibes in the air). But if you come home for the holidays to
someone you love is dealing with depression
, all that can
change in an instant.

Maybe you picked up a few signs on the phone beforehand: a
comment about exhaustion here, a tone of sadness there. But
there’s nothing like spending significant time with your mom,
dad, brother or sister to really see all the red flags (such as

lack of energy, sadness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and
loss of interest in favorite activities

The holidays can be a vulnerable period for people, so a family
member’s symptoms of depression may become especially clear.
“Some people are affected by
less sunlight and more gray days
—plus this season may remind
people of the loss of their loved ones, and all the stress of
hosting and buying gifts can put extra pressure on people,” says
Kristen Wynns, PhD, psychologist and owner of Wynns Family
in Raleigh, NC.

Seeing a loved one suffer is particularly tough during a season
so built on togetherness and happy traditions. “This can be
difficult on you, because in the past, doing those activities would
make your loved one really happy,” says Dr. Wynns. But remember
this: “Trying to get your sibling or parent out of the house for
holiday fun probably seems like an easy solution from your
standpoint—but it’s not that simple for a person with
depression,” she adds.

So what do you do if you’ve picked up that your family member
has depression, and either doesn’t know it or doesn’t want to
get help? Dr. Wynns shares her sound advice. woman drinking by the fireplace holiday depression familyPhoto: Stocksy/Kayla Snell 1. Bring it up the
right way

If you think that your loved one could have depression, don’t
ignore it. “Depression is a difficult topic to address, and it
may be easier to dance around the issue and pretend
that everything is fine
—but for the sake of your loved one,
you’re going to want a find a way to talk about it,” says Dr.

But don’t just barge in and outright tell them that they’re
depressed. This will put them on the defensive, “and they’ll be
more apt to deny everything,” says Dr. Wynns. They might also
have preconceived notions about what depression looks like (maybe
they think it’s just being sad, or think only certain types of
people get it) and thus wouldn’t see their experiences matching
those assumptions.

Instead, “when first speaking to your family member about the
issue, it’s a good idea to express concern about specific
behavioral changes,” says Dr. Wynns.

For example, you could say, “I’m concerned about how
you’re doing. You weren’t feeling up for our holiday dinner,
and you usually like to help make cookies, but you mentioned you
didn’t have energy for that this year—so I’m worried about
you.” Ideally addressing it in this way gives them more clarity
about what exactly you’ve been seeing, and opens up the
conversation. 2. Offer to help any way you can

Because depression can be extremely isolating, it’s really
important to show your loved one they’re not alone, and that they
can rely on you for help.

“You may want to say something like, ‘I know this is tough,
but you have to see somebody,’” says Dr. Wynns. Be firm, while
also offering ways to take on some of the burden (since finding
solutions on their own may seem overwhelming otherwise.) Some ideas
via Dr. Wynns: offering to schedule a therapy appointment, or
watching some informational videos or listening to podcasts about
mental health. 3. Stay away from judgement

One thing you shouldn’t do is try to “talk” someone out of
their depression. “People should accept the feelings their family
members have, rather than saying things like ‘You could have it
worse,’ ‘It’s not that bad,’ or ‘I don’t know why this
is upsetting you so much,’” says Dr. Wynns. “They’re
actually critiques and judgements of the person, which aren’t
productive or helpful.”

Instead, you’ll want to be open and non-judgmental—it’s
not your job to approve or disapprove of how they feel, she says.
(No matter how much it may upset you.) Show how you understand
where they’re coming from by using the language they use to talk
about their feelings. For example, if they tell you they’ve been
feeling really down, you could reply, “I’m so sorry you’re
feeling down lately and going through this.”

It sounds simple, but Dr. Wynns says it’s actually really
effective. “They are where they say they are, and you just want
them to know you’re right there with them in the journey to help
them feel better,” she says. friends walking in the snow family member depression holidaysPhoto: Stocksy/ Milles Studio 4. Avoid an

One important thing to remember: Depression affects your
thinking. So you may face some pushback from your family member
(like, “There’s no point—this isn’t going to get
better,”) that might seem irrational to you, says Dr. Wynns.

Don’t let that deter you from making suggestions and offering
help and support. But try do do whatever you can not to argue
about the situation, which won’t get you—or your loved
one—anywhere. Instead, find a solution that will lead to some
sort of action. “The goal is to be the family member who is
moving the process forward,” says Dr. Wynns.

Have a particularly resistant family member? “You could even
say, ‘I know you don’t want to do it, but let’s just do it
for me—humor me,’” says Dr. Wynns. They may feel obligated to
do you the favor. 5. Assess how serious the issue is

If things seem especially bad, you should ask if they’ve had
suicidal thoughts or considered self-harm. “Some family members
are afraid of asking, because they’re worried they’ll plant
those seeds, but we know that’s not the case—if your loved one
hasn’t thought about it, you won’t be giving them the idea,”
says Dr. Wynns.

She suggests phrasing the question like: “Have things gotten
so bad that you’ve thought about suicide, wanting to die, or
hurting yourself?” Hopefully, asking in this way will capture if
one of these concerns is indeed at play. “They might admit to
having thoughts about wishing they could die, and then the
conversation about getting help can go from there,” says Dr.

If they’re resistant to seeing a professional and you have
serious concerns that they’re suicidal, there are times when
someone needs to take drastic action and call 911, or drive their
loved one to the hospital.

“Your family member may be mad at you for it, but it’s worth
it for them to be alive—it’s much better to deal with their
anger than the alternative of losing your family member,” says
Dr. Wynns. 6. In the future, check in early

If you know, say, that your mom or brother is particularly
vulnerable around the holidays, talk to them a month or two
beforehand about how they’re feeling, advises Dr. Wynns.
“It’s better to talk to them frequently in the beginning of the
season, rather than wait until they’re really struggling,” says
Dr. Wynns.

And know that with your help, if they continue to take positive
steps, there’s a good chance they’ll notice changes. “We now
have figured out that so many things are linked to improvements in
depression beyond therapy and medication, whether that’s
exercise, meditation, utilizing your social support network, or
engaging in fun activities,” says Dr. Wynns.

“Even if someone just chooses one or two therapies their first
week—like a half-hour of exercise and a phone call with a
friend—and the next week they add another, they’ll likely see
traction,” she adds.

If you or someone you love is suicidal, please contact the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8755 or visit  

Here’s why your
anxiety so often gets worse at night
. And if you want to
understand depression more,
here’s a look at the different types. 

Source: FS – NewYork-W Fashion
How to actually help a loved one who seems depressed over the holidays