Getting Prepared: What’s Next?
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023
When someone you love has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD), it can be overwhelming. You might be asking how to best support your family member or friend as they navigate the condition. While it is normal to feel nervous, know that many people successfully manage MDD. You are not alone on this journey as a caregiver.1
How MDD affects your loved one
MDD can have a major impact on the person living with it. But it also can affect their family and friends. The moods and behaviors caused by MDD can be challenging for caregivers. Here is a glimpse into how MDD might affect your loved one:1,2
- Mood swings – Depression can make your loved one's mood go up and down. They might have times when they feel very sad, get easily annoyed, or feel hopeless.
- Social isolation – MDD episodes may lead your loved one to withdraw from social interactions. This can make them feel isolated and detached from their usual activities and relationships.
- Body symptoms – MDD can give your loved one body symptoms. Changes in appetite, sleep problems, and pain are common.
- Job and money challenges – Because of how MDD affects their daily life, your loved one might struggle to keep a job or reach their academic goals. This can lead to struggles with money.
Supporting someone with MDD
The good news is that most people with MDD can manage their condition with proper treatment and a supportive network. Key things to do on your caregiving journey include:3
- Educate yourself. Knowledge about MDD is power. Understanding the condition, its symptoms, and potential triggers will empower you to offer informed support.
- Recognize symptoms. Familiarize yourself with the signs of MDD, both early and advanced. Monitor your loved ones to understand triggers and other symptoms. This will help you identify when your loved one may need more support or expert help.
- Encourage treatment. Encourage your loved one to seek help, which may include therapy and medicine. Support them in following their prescribed treatment plan.
As a caregiver, you may find yourself taking on various tasks to support your loved one with MDD. These may include:3
- Establishing daily routines for sleep, meals, and physical activity
- Helping your loved one stay on track with antidepressant drugs
- Preparing nutritious meals that are easy to eat
- Participating in family therapy sessions
- Creating a calm and quiet environment to minimize stressors
- Helping find mental health professionals and support groups
- Providing transportation to medical and therapy appointments
- Going with your loved one to medical appointments if necessary
- Supporting them in developing coping strategies for managing stress
- Assisting with insurance or disability benefits management
- Monitoring their mood changes and potential triggers
- Keeping an eye out for early signs of relapse and drug side effects
Sometimes, people with MDD do not remember everything they did when they felt really down. What you notice and report can be important to help your loved one’s healthcare providers understand what is happening.3
Stigma can be a major challenge for people with MDD and their families. It can lead to feelings of judgment, isolation, and self-blame. Some ways to address stigma head-on include:4
- Remind your loved one that MDD is a physical/chemical illness, similar to heart disease or diabetes.
- Stress that they did not cause their condition, and it is not their fault.
- Express understanding of how their mood shifts can affect their behavior.
- Encourage them by highlighting their strengths and potential to make positive changes.
- Reinforce that they are not alone and you are there to support them.
Creating a crisis plan
Preparing for crisis situations is crucial. A crisis plan should include essential information like:5
- Emergency contact information for healthcare providers
- Health insurance details
- Location of the nearest hospital
- Lists of things that have been helpful in the past
- List of things that made symptoms worse
If your loved one is having more severe episodes, you might need to:5
- Temporarily secure car keys
- Remove weapons from the house
- Manage money access
- Seek medical help
If you worry that your loved one might hurt themselves or someone else, call 911 or 988 right away to get help fast.5
Taking care of yourself
Caring for someone with MDD can be emotionally taxing, especially when symptoms return. To navigate the stresses of caregiving, focus on self-care. Consider these strategies:3
- Get help from national mental health organizations or groups in your area. They can give you the support you need.
- Set realistic boundaries for yourself and others about what you can manage.
- Accept that your loved one ultimately needs to take responsibility for their own well-being.
Remember, as a caregiver, you play a vital role in your loved one's mental health. Even though you cannot make them feel better, your constant support can help them. Your commitment to learning and adapting will help you navigate the challenges that lie ahead.3