Depression runs in my family, leading me to believe there may be a genetic component to this insidious disease. IF you have never suffered from clinical depression, you really can't understand the nature of the beast. You may feel exasperated with friends or family members who can't "suck it up" and get right about things. You may be busy trying to give them advice or fix them. None of that seems to help and you end up frustrated and sad. A couple things about clinical depression: first off it's way beyond the normal "feeling sad." Clinical depression is earmarked by some of the following factors:
1) An inability to function
2) Loss of appetite, or sometimes the opposite, binge and purge eating cycles
3) Trouble sleeping
4) Poor decision making capacity/loss of judgment/skewed discernment
5) Withdrawal from friends and family
6) Aches and pains
Let's discuss these points one by one. If your loved one is already unable to function, missing work, no longer helping around the house or with the kids, please help this person find professional help. You may love your partner dearly, but you are a spouse not a trained therapist. Even if you ARE a licensed therapist it would be unethical to treat your own friends or family. Your subconscious image of that person is already tainted with assumption. You would not do as well for them as a third party doctor. However, please help the person find reasonable care. They made need help with insurance forms or finding a low cost facility.
I have found that sometimes a life coach can do just as well as an AMA type approach. Some people do better with drugs. The most important components seem to be that the patient feels the caregiver cares about them, and also that the person is listening. If you really want to help personally, don't do anything, just BE there. Depressed people do not want to be "one-upped" with a story from your depressive incident, or quieted by you invalidating their experience, or "fixed" with any sentence that starts with "why don't you just. . . . " Sit and listen or sit in silence. Be good company if you must do something. Bring over a kid or a dog and plan a fun low key activity.
Loss of Appetite: Anorexia and Bulimia are closely related to depression. A person who doesn't feel good about themselves don't feed themselves correctly. It's supportive to bring buy some healthy food, controlling if you insist they eat it. Make offers and let the depressed person decide what they want to do. Invite the person out to lunch if you wish, but once again, leave treatment to the professionals. If your depressed friend has gained a lot of weight, don't make issue of it. Don't make that person feel worse by giving them diet tips or gym equipment. The weight will come off when the depression leaves. So the in that vein, being loving and supportive will more quickly aid a weight loss than being shaming or judgmental.
Trouble sleeping: encourage the person to get a comfortable bed. Offer soothing teas such as chamomile or valerian root. Make a date to go hiking, jogging, regularly scheduled physical activity not only helps a person feel tired, it also alleviates mild depression. Pick up your friend and take them to the gym with you if they'll go. Gift them with soothing instrumental music or a white noise box. Encourage them to turn off the TV in the bedroom which has the opposite effect. It can disrupt sleep and make a person agitated.
Poor decision making: be prepared for a skewed world view. When people are clinically depressed they don't see things the same way. Think of it as mud colored glasses as opposed to rose colored ones. What might see totally obvious to you, ie a nice job would be fun, is not so obvious to them. IF you are ignored at the supermarket, you may think the cashier is a busy while a depressed person may take it personally and internalize the insult. Encourage your depressed friend or loved one to explore all possible explanations for an incident. Is it possible the cashier is sick? Just had a fight with her boyfriend? Is overwhelmed while the other workers are on break? Is going through a divorce? Try to come up with at least 5 alternative explanations to help your friend see their own worse case scenario might not have validity.
Be gentle with the person and remind them to be gentle with themselves. Do not shame a person for feeling depressed. It is a disease that is considered a "sin" in some fundamentalist circles. No one would consider cancer a sin, or diabetes, when in fact either one of those diseases may be caused by poor life choices. Depression is depression, it is somewhat genetic, somewhat circumstantial. Different people have different levels of resilience. Beating a person who is down is counterproductive. Just because you were able to lose your wife, your kid, your job, and carry on, doesn't help a depressed person feel better about their own situation. They crave acceptance. In fact often, the more accepting you are, the sooner it drifts away like steam evaporating. Depression is sort of like happiness, it hits when you are seeking other things. It's a moving target. It is often cured by getting the mind on other things.
Withdrawal from friends and family: Feel free to check up on your depressed person. Pop by, if they are ok with it and stay no more than five minutes unless you are invited to stay longer. Send emails with regularity or leave messages on their phone answering machine. If you suspect suicidal tendencies than don't be afraid to address them. Ask, "do you fear you will hurt yourself?" Remember there is all the difference in the world between "I wish I was dead," and "I want to kill myself." The second statement requires immediate intervention. The first statement may be just a feeling and feelings change.