In the movie, Paint Your Wagon, Ben Rumson calls his depression "Melancholy". He tells "Pardner" to solace him when that happens, but giving solace to someone in the throes of depression can be tricky. Approach them one way and they are irritable — the other way and they are despondent.
The solace Rumson spoke of is elusive for the depressed person. Their loved ones may feel damned if they do and damned if they don't. However, just being present in their life and wanting them in yours may be enough. Do less than you think is needed. Less is more.
- Don’t ask them why they are depressed. They may not know and not knowing is just more frustrating. Depression is not something you can control. It is a physical condition that affects one’s emotional outlook. One definition of depression is that it is anger turned inward. If that’s the case, it’s a jack-in-the box you really don’t want to open.
- Whether they are irritable or melancholy, don't take their bad humor personally. You are not the cause of their anger or their tears.
- Don’t cajole. Don't tell them they'll feel better if... The more you tell a depressed person what they should do, the less they will be inclined to do it. Showing is always better than telling and telling must always be backed up with sincerity. If you ask them a question, don't cajole them to get an answer. It will only drive them further inside themselves.
- Don’t ask a depressed person why they are crying. It’s embarrassing. They probably don’t know why and if they do, it’s probably not something they want to share. If they did, they would without being asked.
- Help a depressed loved one in the same way you would help any friend or family member with a medical challenge because depression is a medical challenge. Help where you see that your help is needed and will be appreciated. However if an offer to help is refused, save it for later.
The best thing you can do for someone with depression is to let them know they hold an important place in your life and be ready to tell them why. Do let them know that you are always there to listen when and if they want to talk. However, keep in mind that you are not their therapist. You are just a good listener.
When occasion warrants, you might suggest professional help but do emphasize that you are there for them as well. Remember, don’t nag. It will not only drive a wedge between them and the professional help they need. It may also drive a wedge between you and them and they can’t afford to lose you.
If you think a depressed person is suicidal. Find something that you both can do and tell them you really need their help. Stay with them. A lot of suicidal people deeply believe that their life doesn't matter to anyone. Treat them with love, patience, respect, and sincerity. Most importantly let them know they make your life better by being a part of it. Many people who are suicidal consider ending their lives not because they feel they would be better off dead, but because they sincerely feel that their loved ones would be better off if they were dead. Make sure they know that isn’t true.
Note: I am not a medical professional. These are just my opinions taken from my own experience. My perceptions are not those of everyone who has this illness.