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Depression: Helping Someone Get Treatment

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Your loved one or friend doesn't seem the same. You thought it was the blues, but it's been going on for weeks. And it seems much worse than that.

Is your friend grieving over something? Or could it be depression?

If you want to learn more about grieving, see the topic Grief and Grieving. If you think someone close to you is depressed, urge him or her to see a doctor.

This topic will give you the tools to do so.

  • Depression is a disease. It's not being lazy, and you can't "just get over it."
  • Depression is very common and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
  • The best thing you can do for someone who has depression is to help him or her get treatment.
  • Don't ignore talk about suicide. Talk to a doctor, or call or emergency help if needed.
  • Treatment works, and there are many choices in treatment. Many types of health practitioners can treat depression.
  • Depression can be caused by another medical problem. Treating the problem may stop the depression.

Depression is a disease. It's caused by changes in the chemicals in the brain. Depression isn't a character flaw, and it doesn't mean that the person is bad or weak. It doesn't mean that he or she is going crazy.

Depression causes a person to feel sad and hopeless much of the time. It's different from normal feelings of sadness, grief, or low energy. The person may lose interest in daily activities and may feel sad and grouchy for a long time. Other symptoms of depression include losing or gaining weight and always feeling tired.

Depression is common. Men and women of all ages, ethnic groups, and economic groups can have it. It often runs in families. But it also can happen to someone who doesn't have a family history of depression. A person can have depression one time or many times.

Medicines, counseling, and self-care can all help depression. Many people don't get help because they are embarrassed or think that they'll get over depression on their own. But most people need treatment to get better.

Test Your Knowledge

Depression can't be treated. You have to get over it on your own.


Many people think that depression isn't serious and that they can get over it on their own. But depression is a disease and is hard to get over. If someone you care for has symptoms of depression, it's important for the person to see a doctor, because:

  • The doctor can diagnosis depression or other problems. Getting a correct diagnosis is the first step in treating depression.
  • Most people cannot get over depression on their own. Without treatment, depression probably will continue.
  • Most people get better with treatment.
  • After someone has had an episode of depression, he or she is more likely to have another episode. Without treatment, depression is more likely to come back. And it may be more severe.

If you think that someone you know is depressed, the best thing you can do is to get the person to see a doctor. The sooner someone with depression gets treatment, the sooner he or she will feel better.

Test Your Knowledge

Most people need treatment to recover from depression.


If you're worried about a loved one or a friend, you probably want to talk to him or her about your concerns. Here are some things you can do:

Tell the person about depression and why you are concerned

  • Stress that depression is not laziness or something in the head. It's a common disease and is nothing to be embarrassed about.
  • Point out the symptoms of depression that you have noticed in your family member or friend, and say why these symptoms worry you. Use a supportive and caring tone of voice while you are doing this.
  • Ask the person to answer a few questionsClick here to see an interactive tool. to see if he or she might be depressed.

Explain why the person needs to see a health professional

  • Explain that very few people get over depression on their own. Most people need some type of treatment. The sooner someone gets treatment, the sooner he or she will feel better.
  • Point out that there are many types of professionals who treat depression and many types of treatment. Just because a person is depressed doesn't mean that he or she needs to see a psychologist or take medicine. A family doctor or a counselor may be able to help.
  • Point out that depression might be caused by another problem. For example, many people have an underactive thyroid, which can cause symptoms of depression. A doctor can diagnose this and give the person thyroid medicine. This will stop the depression. A doctor also can tell if a medicine, such as one used for high blood pressure, might be causing depression.

Watch for the warning signs of suicide

  • Watch for the warning signs of suicide, such as talking a lot about death or giving things away and writing a will. If you notice them, call the doctor.
  • Call or emergency help if you think:
    • The person is going to harm himself or herself or others. For example, the person has a written plan or a weapon or is saving (stockpiling) medicines.
    • The person is hearing or seeing things that aren't real.
    • The person seems to be thinking or speaking in a bizarre way that is not like his or her usual behavior.

Help the person overcome fears about treatment

Many people have reasons why they don't want to see a doctor. Talk about these barriers, and help the person find solutions.



"See a shrink? I'm not crazy."

"People will think I'm weak."

"What will my family and friends think?"

  • You are looking for help so you will feel better. It takes strength and courage to seek help from others.
  • You may not need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist. Your family doctor or a counselor may be able to help you.
  • Mental health problems are real and can affect your physical health. They are not character flaws. They are often caused by chemicals in the brain or by heredity.
  • You can get better with the right kind of treatment. Treatment includes medicine, counseling, self-care, or a combination of these. The kind of treatment you have will depend on how severe your symptoms are.

"It might hurt my career."

  • You may think that it will hurt your career if people at your workplace know that you are depressed. But depression may make it hard for you to perform your job well. Treatment can help you perform better.

"I've had counseling before and didn't like it."

  • Learn about treatment for depression, and find someone you feel comfortable with. If you don't connect with one doctor or counselor, try another one.

"Aren't medicines for depression addictive?"

"These medicines make you crazy or uninterested in sex."

  • Medicines for depression are not addictive.
  • Medicines for depression have side effects, and some affect sexual desire. If you're worried about side effects, your doctor can find medicines with fewer or different side effects or can change your dose.

"Someone might get into my medical records and see this."

  • Doctors, counselors, hospitals, and clinics take privacy seriously. They won't share your records with anyone who's not involved in your treatment. If you have questions about your privacy, ask the doctor about it when you call for an appointment.

"It's hard to schedule and find time for an appointment."

"I can't get there."

  • Look at your schedule, and find when it would be easiest for you to see a doctor. Ask for this time when you call.
  • When you call for an appointment, explain your situation. Most doctors will try to find a time that works for both of you.
  • Ask a friend to help you get there, or check local bus schedules.

"I've tried to talk to people. They just don't get it and don't care."

  • It may be hard for some people to understand depression. But other people who have been through depression can understand. Consider finding a support group of people with similar experiences.

"I can't afford it."

  • Many towns and cities have resources that may be able to help you. Call your local social services department or welfare office to find out.
  • If you have insurance, check your policy. Mental health benefits often are covered through a separate company.
  • Ask your doctor for help. He or she may be able to find free or low-cost medicine or counseling.
  • Check Medicaid if you have a low income. Check Medicare if you are 65 or older. These programs may be able to help you.
  • Some universities, hospitals, and other institutions may have training programs and may offer reduced fees.

Test Your Knowledge

If someone gives you a reason why he or she should not get treatment, you should just accept it.


Now that you have read this information, you are better prepared to help someone decide to get treatment for depression.

If you know someone who has been diagnosed with depression, you can help.

Click here to view an Actionset.Depression: Supporting Someone Who Is Depressed

If you would like more information on depression, the following resource is available:


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
3803 North Fairfax Drive
Suite 100
Arlington, VA 22203
Phone: 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264) hotline for help with depression
(703) 524-7600
Fax: (703) 524-9094
Email: [email protected]
Web Address:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a national self-help and family advocacy organization dedicated solely to improving the lives of people who have severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic depression), major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and panic disorder. NAMI focuses on support, education, advocacy, and research. The mission of the organization is to "eradicate mental illness and improve the quality of life of those affected by these diseases."

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ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerLisa S. Weinstock, MD - Psychiatry
Last RevisedJanuary 11, 2013

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