My Father is Depressed, How Can I Help?

Wondering how to help when your father is depressed? Here’s how. Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior. Talk to your dad about his depression, and encourage him to go for therapy. Try to be understanding and show emotional and physical support. You also need to set boundaries and take care of your mental health.

Fathers are traditionally thought of as the head of the household. We are often raised and taught that they are strong, powerful, and fearless. We are also frequently taught and believe that they should keep their feelings inside and never cry.

It’s not uncommon for people in therapy sessions to recognize that they are not sure they have ever seen their father open up or understood how he really felt. This may, therefore, be a familiar feeling to readers; “My dad puts on the necessary face to go about his day, but he is depressed, and I do not know how to help. What can I do?”

Depression takes a toll on relationships and may cause loved ones to feel frustrated, hopeless, and fearful. Knowing when and how to act when someone close to you, like your dad, is depressed helps to take some of the strain off your relationship. Here’s how.

Picture of depressed father with editing effects to show sadness and depersonalization

Familiarize Yourself with the Symptoms of Depression

Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world. It is a serious mental illness and can, unfortunately, be a lot harder to understand than a physical illness. You may have noticed that your dad isn’t up for much lately.

He may seem exhausted, he doesn’t want to watch his favorite movies or shows, and he isn’t as keen to grab a bite with you anymore. Symptoms of depression may be showcased in the most subtle of ways

Here are a few common signs/symptoms of depression:

  • Irritable, short-tempered, or more aggressive than usual.
  • Increases in bad habits; such as: overeating, binge eating, excess alcohol consumption and smoking, drug use, or overuse of prescription meds.
  • Lack of energy and exhaustion despite seemingly adequate sleep
  • A loss of pleasure
  • Experiencing excessive guilt
  • Recurring thoughts or mentions of suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Restlessness
  • Slowness
  • Change of appetite
  • Weight loss/weight gain
  • Feeling worthless

Recognize Suicidal Behaviour

Sometimes, what looks like a sudden recovery could be the exact opposite. It’s a terrifying subject, but familiarizing yourself with suicidal behaviours is very important. Knowing what suicidal behaviors are ahead of time gives you time to act swiftly. 

Look for the following behaviors:

  • Talking about feeling hopeless. 
  • Saying that you would be better off without him.
  • Giving away personal or sentimental belongings.
  • Trying to create one last good memory with friends or family.
  • Talking about when they are gone or getting their affairs in order.
  • Talking about death, suicide, or hurting themselves.
  • Sudden behavior changes, such as calmness after a period of anxiety.
  • Engaging in risky or self-destructive behaviors, such as increased alcohol or drug use.

Crisis lines in the United States:

Number/LinkName:
1-800-273-8255National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Text HOME to 741-741Crisis Text Line
1-866-488-7386The Trevor Project
https://www.imalive.org/IMAlive Crisis Chatine
1-800-273-8255Veterans Crisis Line
211Emergency referrals to social and community services
911National emergency number

Crisis lines in Canada:

Number/LinkName:
1-833-456-4566Canada Suicide Prevention Service
https://kidshelpphone.ca/Kids Help Phone
Text HOME to 686868Crisis Text Line
1-877-330-6366Trans Lifeline
https://suicideprevention.ca/Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention
911National emergency number

Crisis lines in the United Kingdom:

Number/LinkName:
0800 689 5652National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK
08457 90 90 90Samaritans Helpline
0800 58 58 58Campaign Against Living Miserably
Text SHOUT to 85258Shout
999 & 112 National emergency number

Crisis lines in Australia:

Number/LinkName:
13 11 14Lifeline – 24-hour nationwide
1800 55 1800Kids Helpline
1300 22 4636Beyond Blue
1300 659 467Suicide Call Back Service
1300 78 99 78MensLine Australia
000 National emergency number

Click here for more suicide prevention crisis lines in other countries.

Talk to Your Dad

There is a misconception that depression is a sign of weakness, a character flaw. This is especially true for men in our culture. Your dad probably doesn’t feel that he has the right to be depressed or feel comfortable sharing his feelings with others. The shame and stigma of depression might be keeping him silent. Depression doesn’t diminish a person’s desire to connect with people, but it does diminish their ability.

Bringing up the topic of depression can be scary, especially when talking with a parent. If you feel that your father isn’t improving, it’s ok to start a conversation about his depression. Remind him how important he is to you and approach him out of a place of concern and care.

Remind him that his feelings aren’t a sign of weakness. Feelings make us human, and when we deny our feelings, it leaves us feeling empty inside and often searching for ways to self-medicate or engage in avoidance behaviours to fill the void.

Talk to him in a way that he knows his life is still valuable and of importance, even on his worst days. If you can share empathy and close the chasm, he may open up and share his experience more easily. Even just talking about depression openly can help. Research shows that asking someone about suicidal thoughts may actually reduce their suicide risk.

Useful questions to ask your Father

  • Can you help me better understand how you are feeling?
  • Do you have thought of death and suicide?
  • How have your sleeping patterns changed?
  • How are your concentration and energy levels?
  • Do you enjoy being in other people’s company?
  • How have your eating patterns changed?

Questions to Avoid asking when your Father is Depressed

  • When will you start feeling better?
  • Can’t you just cheer up?
  • Don’t I make you happy?
  • Are you aware that other people have it much worse than you?

Encourage Your Dad to Seek Therapy

After having a heartfelt discussion with your dad, let him know that he isn’t alone and, with the right help, he can heal. Encourage him, gently, to find a therapist or to see a doctor. A therapist may help to identify triggers, reframe negative thought patterns, and practice coping skills and preventative measures to reduce depression symptoms in the future.

Try to help with specific tasks, like looking for therapists, or making a list of questions to ask a doctor. These first steps can seem overwhelming to someone suffering from depression. If they feel guilty or ashamed to seek help, point out that depression is a medical condition. It’s not a weakness or a personality trait issue and they shouldn’t just expect themselves to “get over it”.

It is, however, of utmost importance for you to remember that you are not responsible for your father’s thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors.

Show Understanding and Support

If you haven’t experienced depression yourself, avoid comparing their experiences to times you’ve felt down. Comparing their experiences to normal, temporary feelings of sadness can make them feel guilty for struggling. Allow them to experience and process their emotions and talk to them like they belong. 

Support your father emotionally and practically by:

  • Accompanying him to the doctor or driving him to and from therapy.
  • Giving him a friendly reminder to take medication.
  • Grabbing something to eat or making a home-cooked meal.
  • Encouraging him to exercise, or exercising together. 
  • Giving him space and alone time when necessary/requested.

Spend Time with Your Dad

Touch is not experienced as a mere sensation, but effectively as an emotion. Harness the power of touch. People lacking affection tend to struggle more with depression. Offer a light touch of support and give him a warm hug. A touch as simple as a pat on the back or a tight hug can communicate your love and care even better than verbal language.

Your dad loves you even if he is unable to properly show it to you at the moment. Show your dad you love him by making it a point to spend time with him. Taking the initiative to do something simple together might mean more than you think.

Spend time outdoors with your dad. Go to the park or take a walk around the block together. The sun produces natural vitamin D in your body, which can help alleviate symptoms of depression (especially if it is seasonal). Interact with your dad about everyday stuff. Invite him to contribute to your life in some simple way, even if it’s as small as asking him to see a movie with you.

Accept That There Will be Bad Days

Your father is going to have good days and bad days even with treatment and therapy. Do not take negative responses personally. Understand and validate his feelings as he shares them with you.

It is vital to understand that having bad days are a normal part of depression. Do not withdraw your support or love during these bad times. If you offer to be there for him, clearly state what you can and can’t do; make an offer with clear boundaries around it to preserve your own mental health and wellbeing.

Placing too much pressure on someone who is depressed can make them feel like they are disappointing you if they fail to meet your standards. If they are having a tough day, try taking some time off to do something fun.

Take Care of Yourself

Caring for someone struggling with a mental illness is very challenging. You should practice regular self-care and remember to look after your own mental well-being.

Here are some ways to look after yourself:

  • Try to stay positive.
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly.
  • Socialize with friends and family other than your dad.
  • Take time for yourself and do something you love.
  • Have realistic expectations of the recovery process.
  • Ask for help from relatives when you need it.
  • Attend a support group for people who have parents suffering from depression.

In Conclusion

If you talk to someone suffering from depression as if their life is just as valuable and beautiful as yours; then there’s no need to build a bridge between you, because you’ve closed the chasm. Focus on allowing your father to express his emotions without comparing his emotions to your own everyday experiences. Show your father that you care and gently suggest seeking therapy.

It’s valuable to support your dad, but it is just as important to take care of yourself.