We often hear that one of the fool-proof ways to combat depression is support from people we love. Research even backs this up. A study conducted by researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences found that social support, defined as feeling “valued, respected, cared about, [and] loved by others,” can be a protective factor against both depression and anxiety. There’s healing value in the simple feeling of closeness.
Unfortunately, depression also can erode your capacity to accept love from others — when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to accept any affection. Author Andrew Solomon, who shared his experience of depression in “The Noonday Demon,” wrote that depression “degrades one’s self and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or receive affection.” That’s why if you are living with depression, sometimes the easiest way to accept support from others is the ways you’d least expect.
We asked people living with depression the surprising things that made them feel loved. They spoke of partners who brushed their hair when they lacked the energy to do it themselves; of friends who washed dishes and reminded them to do the basics, like brush their teeth. People experiencing depression felt loved when they received invitations they knew they would turn down or when loved ones came over just to sit quietly by their side.
If you love someone who lives with depression, it can be hard to communicate how much they mean to you, but little gestures like these can make a big difference.
Here are 20 things that make people with depression feel loved:
“When I get to see the kiddos I babysit and they see me coming in the house and run right up to me and don’t let me go.” — Tiffany M.
“When I’m deep in depression my room will get very messy and that messes with my anxiety and everything just gets worse but then my mom (after waiting for me to leave my room for more than five minutes) will vacuum my floor and I don’t know why it helps but it does and I just feel her love, and I start to feel a little better and usually end up cleaning up my room a bit.” — Tiffany W.
“When the laundry and/or dishes are done for me. Watching them pile up makes things so much worse but I can’t make myself do anything about it. When those are done everything feels less overwhelming. I feel loved because it feels like they want to carry or eliminate some of the weight from me.” — Andréa B.
3. Getting Tattoos
“My tattoos. They are all symbolic of things and people that have been there for me during rough times. They are a helpful grounding. One is for my husband and will eventually extend to include our kids when we have them. My new ‘Ohana that stepped up when my parents left me.” — Mia M.
“My 2nd from last tattoo is a big ‘un… No matter how many times I look at it, it surprises me with different memories etc that remind me to crack on, I’m worth it.” — Jasmine C.
4. Caring for Pets
“Taking care of my animals. They’re always grateful and they never judge me for how I’m feeling; good day or bad day, they love me just the same.” — Ginny D.
“What helps the most seems to be my dogs, when I am struggling with depression they demand more attention and cuddle more than normal. It is hard to be sad with a smile like my dog always has when getting a belly rub.” — Andrea B.
“I bought six pet mice to take care of since I extended my leave of absence on university as recommended by my psychiatrist. I could never describe the happiness I felt when they finally weren’t afraid to climb on my hands and arms anymore. I just feel so loved when they started letting me carry them.” — Estrella Marie V. A.
5. Receiving Self-Care Reminders
“My boyfriend and I live in different states. He knows my depression really gets me, especially when it comes to getting up in the morning (or afternoon). He FaceTimes me, encouraging me to do simple things like get out of bed, brush my teeth and eat. He thinks he’s being annoying sometimes, but I love that he’s not overwhelming and pushes just the right amount. It means the world to me and helps so much.” — Amber R.
6. Having a Gym Buddy
“It’s the little things my parents are willing to do with me. I had a gym membership that I never used, my dad ended up joining a gym with me and goes with me to help my anxiety and depression. I have his 90-day activity book that has you do one thing you normally don’t do (i.e. take a cold shower) and my mom said she will do it with me. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but to me it means more than [they] can even fathom, more than I can even say to them.” — Kelsey E.
7. Setting Alarms
“My amazing husband knows how hard it is for me to get out of bed for work every morning. He has two alarms set for me and brings me a big hot cup of tea every morning. He puts it in the bathroom so I have to get up to get it! So adorable yet effective!” — Cyndi B.
8. Joking Around
“The people I work with. They are amazing, I have never hid the fact that I have bipolar as I am a firm believer that being honest and upfront is the way to get the understanding and support I need. My workplace makes me feel safe and ‘normal.’ I’m just another employee — we even have a laugh about how ‘mad’ I can be at times (in a fun way). My colleagues are my friends and I feel totally loved and accepted.” — Samantha T. M.
9. Brushing Your Hair
“My husband brushes my hair for me after I wash it when I’m struggling. I have extremely curly hair, so if I don’t brush it while it’s wet it doesn’t get brushed. I simply don’t have the energy to both shower and detangle my hair when I’m struggling. Natural locks begin to form, but they turn into ugly balls of matted hair I just hide in a bun. My husband asked me what would stop that from happening and I explained the situation to him… He acted like I was silly for not asking for his help to begin with. It was a significant burden taken off my shoulders knowing that I didn’t have to live with the fear of humiliation that came from the fatigue of depression.” — Keli J.
10. Making Coffee
“When I’m too tired and won’t get up in the morning my partner will make me a cup of coffee. I’m usually really moody in the mornings and I feel really bad he has to deal with it most of the time. But him doing that for me just makes not just mine but both of our mornings flow easier. He does so much for me and I appreciate deeply his every act of love and kindness.” — Keremy E.
“I get such a feeling of joy when someone hands me a coffee and I never asked for it. It’s a simple thing I know but nothing says you ran through their mind for a minute like them bringing a small thing to you without a prior request being given. I love it and I can’t help but smile like a baby when someone does it.” — Sheldon N.
“Nothing has made me feel more important than my best friend taking me out for coffee, even when I haven’t slept, haven’t showered and am smelly.” — Hannah M.
11. Sitting in Silence
“Mutual silence. My boyfriend is wonderful because when I’m in a dark state I usually stay silent. He just hugs me, kisses my forehead and stays silent with me. Makes depression less lonely.” — Lexi T.
12. Giving a Simple Hug
“Maybe it’s not surprising, but long tight hugs always make me feel so safe and so loved. I don’t like to talk about my feelings or what I’m going through, and people can say nice things to try and help you feel better — but they’re just words. They don’t mean much, at least to me. But when someone takes a minute and just hugs me tight, in that moment things don’t seem so bad.” — Molly Marie E.
13. Doing Chores
“Doing little accomplishments like cleaning, dishes or laundry. It usually takes courage to get up on the weekends and do it but once I do it I feel better.” — Courtney R.
14. Still Sending an Invitation
“Getting an invite for a coffee and chat, even though I’ve turned down so many offers in the past as I don’t feel ‘up to it.’” — Emma S.
“Family and friends who call and invite me to hang. Even better when they told me ‘you don’t have to be happy being with us, you can be sad with us. We want to see you. That’s it.’” — Olivia R.
15. Watching Cat Videos
“I don’t have a cat but I looooooove cats. So I just watch videos of funny and cuuuttee furballs. That makes me feel loved.” — Jhannah A.
16. Being Tagged on Social Media
“Someone tagging me in something on social media, shows me they were thinking of me without expecting anything in response.” — Lucy B.
17. Someone Showing Concern
“When my best friend says he’s worried about me. As much as I hate being a source of worry for him when I’m at my worst, it means the world to hear that he still finds me worth his mental energy in those times.” — Jennifer K.
18. Having a Special Drink
“A Coca-Cola because my father would give me one and always said sometimes when you have nothing to hold onto in a day find something; even if it’s just a Coke.” — Michael B. K.
19. Giving a Quick Compliment
“Have been struggling with a particularly bad depressive episode this year. I work in a kitchen on a separate station to the rest of the team and often cry throughout the day while I work as I’m too busy to have some space and settle, and I know they won’t see unless I’m approached. Music was playing and it was a live recording with applause; my workmate dashes past, stops, and says ‘That applause is for you because you’re brilliant, you’re doing so well and you’re going to be OK,’ before carrying on his way.” — Alice B.
“When my friend congratulates me on following through with addressing my depression. I’ve always had mental health issues but I just recently started seeing a therapist and taking meds for it. I’ve never done that. I’m so proud of myself and it makes me happy to see that someone else understands how big of a deal it is to follow through.” — Whitney B.
“When my friends tell me ‘I’m proud of you,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘your friendship means a lot to me.’ These simple phrases are things I didn’t hear growing up. So now it just absolutely warms my heart every time.” — Yael G.
If you live with depression and find it hard to accept love from others, you’re not the only one. We want you to know that you’re needed and valued. If you’re ever in need of support, don’t hesitate to reach out on The Mighty using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe.