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Helping a Loved One Through Anxiety and Depression


May is Mental Health Awareness Month— an important time to learn how you can help a person suffering from anxiety or depression. 

By Suzanne Kunis, Director, Behavioral Health Solutions

She can’t work … or sleep … and feeling joyful is nearly impossible.

He’s sad or worried, most of the time, and can’t eat properly.

These feelings and symptoms may be signs of one or both of the two most common forms of mental illness – anxiety and depression. Combined, they affect more than 50 million U.S. adults annually.1

While these are serious diseases, they are each highly treatable – through therapy, counseling and/or medication. Yet only about 37 percent of those who live with mental illness seek out and receive treatment due to the perceived stigma regarding the disease or a lack of knowledge about where to turn for support.

How to help a loved one

May is Mental Health Awareness month, and a good time to learn more about these conditions – and how to seek and attain appropriate treatment for a person in need. Following are some helpful definitions, signs of possible symptoms, and steps to take to get proper assistance:


What is depression? 

Depression is defined as “feelings of severe despondency and dejection.” If depressive feelings persist for more than two weeks, the patient has the disease of major depressive disorder. If they persist for more than two years, the patient has the disease of chronic depression, and is more likely to consider suicide and face other health issues.


What are some common symptoms of depression?

Depression is often characterized by sadness, guilt, poor self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, tiring easily, poor concentration and lack of interest in regular activities.

When depressed, individuals often avoid doing things they typically enjoy. They will not get as much pleasure out of a good meal, a night out together, intimacy, or even a good conversation.

How to help people suffering from depression

Everyone can have a bad day. But if feelings of depression and/or anxiety persist, it’s important to seek help without delay.

Avoid shame: No one would ever blame people with cancer for their illness. Depression is also a disease, though many people suffering from depression can feel like failures and blame themselves for feeling sad. Avoid blaming the person for their depression, and never make comments like, “cheer up” or “you’re just a bit sad.”

Get help: Many resources are available, starting with the member’s primary care physician, as well as a psychiatrist or a licensed behavioral health clinician. After an initial assessment, therapy, medication and other forms of treatment may be prescribed.

Maintain reasonable expectations: Encourage your loved one to take good care of him/herself without being a nag. People suffering from depression often do not get the same joy from activities. Praise your loved one’s efforts to be healthy, like getting enough sleep and eating well. Encourage these activities that keep mind and body at peak performance.

Support helpful treatment: Whether it’s medication, counselling or both, your support will help a person dealing with depression. If you’re noticing bad side effects from a medication, conversations with a doctor can help identify different treatments. At the same time if something is working well, encourage your loved one to maintain the behavior.

What is anxiety? 

Anxiety is defined as a “feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” It is the most common mental health condition in the U.S., affecting more than 18 percent of the population.

What are some common symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety is often characterized by an inability to control feelings of worry. As a result, people with anxiety often feel on edge or restless, are easily fatigued and irritable, have trouble concentrating, and have sleep-related issues.

About ½ of people diagnosed with anxiety have also been diagnosed with depression.

How to help people suffering from anxiety

Finding a mental health professional is an important step in helping deal with anxiety, but below are additional ideas to help get a loved one on the path to recovery:

Be supportive: Remind your loved one it’s normal to have sadness or anxiety, while also supporting positive self-care.

Connect with support groups: Encourage the person to join support groups either online or in-person. Talking with another person that truly gets it is powerful.

Write it down: Putting worries on paper and then breaking them down into smaller, more achievable tasks, is an effective way for a loved one to overcome feelings of anxiety.

Read inspiring stories: Encourage your loved one to find inspiring stories of how other people deal with adversity to help them through tough times.

Are you recognizing these symptoms in yourself? Depression and anxiety can affect anyone. Don’t be afraid to seek help.


Horizon is here to help

During this hard time, no one should be alone on their path to seeking help. Horizon Behavioral Health’s resources are available online, and Horizon’s confidential help line at 1-800-626-2212 is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to help you with:

  • Feelings of depression, stress and anxiety

  • Substance use disorder issues

  • Referrals for therapy

  • Mental health crisis assistance

1Anxiety and Depression Association of America