How Can I Help My Sister, Who I Know Is Depressed, If She Lives in a Different State?

Carol Landau, Ph.D., healthy living expert at, answers your questions about managing your 20s and 30s without getting depressed

This is an increasingly common problem as many of us live far away from our families. It is hard when you can’t drop by casually to say hi, meet for coffee or otherwise get together. The best thing you can do for your sister is to listen.

Studies suggest that having a close confidant can prevent women who are at risk for depression from becoming depressed, and it can help even when a woman is already depressed.

Listen without interrupting. Then ask follow-up questions and restate what she says to make sure you understand. Resist jumping in with answers to make her feel better (a common instinct) or she may feel brushed off. Instead, ask her what she has tried already so you can get a fuller picture of what’s going on. Then ask her how you can help.

Stay in touch, whether by phone, Skype or email. If she wants advice, suggest activities that steer her away from the inertia and lethargy of depression, such as exercise, getting outside and socializing.

Consider visiting her or having her visit you. Or meet somewhere halfway. Finally, simply reminding her that you love her can help a lot.

You may need to be more proactive if your sister is seriously depressed and not being treated by a mental health professional. Insist that she call her primary care professional to talk about antidepressant medication and a referral to a psychiatrist, and ask other family members and friends to do the same. If she is suicidal, consider it an emergency.

Learn more about the pitfalls of the decade after college -- mid-20s to mid-30s – and how to survive without getting depressed. To ask questions or to give and receive support, visit our Depression Support message board.

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