You know someone who has been in a funk for several weeks. Everything he says is depressing, and he seems to be withdrawing from social contact. You want to help, but how?

Knowing how to do an intervention for depression is a learned skill, but there are steps you can take.

The first thing to do is make sure the person really is depressed. Holding an intervention for and forcing treatment upon a person who will not benefit can put a strain on your relationship and actually make the person's mood worse. The following are some signs that what the person has is really depression and that he or she may be helped by an intervention:

  • Sadness without grief may indicate general depression. Even sadness in response to a traumatic event may indicate depression if it does not go away on its own after a period of time. Furthermore, even if a person admits to being depressed to the point of pathology, if they are not taking action to fix it, they may be candidates for an intervention.
  • If you try to explain your concerns and are met with denial, you may need to resort to an intervention as the next step. Denial is one of the most common reactions, and it keeps the person from getting the help they need.
  • Hiding emotions, either by repressing or ignoring them, or masking them with drug or alcohol abuse, is a classic sign of depression. As with outright denial, these behaviors encourage the person to think everything is okay. They are an attempt to assert control over one's life, but really just undermine it.
  • Finally, any suicidal thoughts or comments should be addressed immediately. They are almost always the sign of a serious mental condition, and require professional attention.

If the above signs and symptoms do indicate your friend or family member is clinically depressed, here's how to do an intervention for depression:

Follow through. If the person refuses treatment, take the steps you laid out at the beginning. Now is not the time for bluffing. Sometimes, the only way a person will accept help is if they are forced to confront to consequences of their decisions.

  • Focus on your desire to help the person. Reassure him that you are not attack him as a person, but are concerned for his safety and health. They are more likely to make a positive choice about treatment if you convince them that the intervention is about getting them the help they need.
  • Explain how their depression affects you and other friends and family. Be specific, using recent personal examples. Don't blame them, but make them see what it is costing you for them to deny treatment.
  • Invite others to contribute. The more people who can give examples of the person's depression and its impact on them, the better.
  • Stay calm and don't argue. Remember, this is about getting the person to accept help, not placing blame. They have the right to refuse treatment. Just be firm and make sure they understand the consequences of such a refusal.
  • Be clear on the consequences of refusing treatment. Have each person present prepare a list ahead of time of the steps they will take if the person refuses treatment. This can include things like moving out or limiting access to the person's children.
  • Establish a clear call to action. Set up appointments before the intervention and tell the person "We have scheduled you to meet with a doctor tomorrow. I need you to go with me." Don't let the intervention end without the person making a decision about treatment one way or the other.