How do I help someone who is depressed and demotivated?

One cause of depresssion, and demotivation, is being trapped in an unsuitable environment.    Photo by Brem Jeff on Unsplash
Part of mental illness is the constant struggle with motivation.  Sometimes it seems as though the stuffing has been knocked out of you.  This is particularly true of depression.

There are a number of reasons why this happens, and each of them has a slightly different set of possible remedies.


Behind depression is frequently loss.  The obvious losses tend to be bereavements, but losses can take many forms.  Having to move house can cause a loss of a sense of security.  A relationship turning bad can cause a huge and immediate sense of loss.

A natural reaction to loss is to experience demotivation.  This is partly because your mind has lost its mental map – the familiar person, the house, the job that kept you focused.  Your sense of direction disappears, and you feel like a boat floating on a stormy sea.


Another cause of depression, and hence demotivation, is an environment that does not suit your natural appetites.  Put a mammal in a cage, and it will generally suffer, compared with being in its natural surroundings.  The usual triggers for action are not there, and so the animal sits there, just passing time.  You are like that mammal.  You need a helpful and free environment in order to flourish.

Unsuitable environments can come in a number of forms.  It could be an unsuitable job with a bullying boss.  It could be a relationship in which you cannot be yourself.  Generally, it will involve a restriction on your freedom, and regular discomfort.


Finally, your body can simply end up in a state from which it cannot develop the hormones and energy to be motivated.

The ill health can be genetic – some forms of depression run in families.  It can be to do with a stage of life, such as adolescence, or the menopause, where the change in body chemistry is significant.  Or it can be a reaction to one of the above (loss or unsuitable environment), whereby the body eventually gives up trying to compensate for the pressure it is under.


Many people’s depression and/or demotivation are a mixture of all three, in varying amounts.  A typical scenario might be:

  • a person who has suffered a fairly recent loss (of person, job or house),
  • which may be followed by an enforced change of environment (strained finances causing worries and restricted circumstances);
  • both the above feeding into a natural tendency towards depression, made worse by any general ill health.

Multiple factors may need multiple solutions.  It is important not to blame anyone for choosing one solution over another.  But here are five approaches which seem to help most people, to varying degrees.

  1. Social support.  Unfortunately, lack of motivation may isolate the person.  It is important for family and friends to be proactive.  Reassuring company, pleasant chat, outings – all these enhance motivation.
  2. Short term planning.  When long-term plans seem unthinkable, it relieves the brain to focus on short term goals.  One day at a time is a well-used phrase for a reason.
  3. Freedom.  If a friend is demotivated, ask what they fancy doing.  You may discover a side to them you didn’t know about.  Remember, they may be like that mammal in a cage, and may need a bit of freedom.
  4. Advocacy.  When depressed, people find it hard to find the motivation to defend themselves.  This causes a vicious circle, in which their suffering carries on unless someone speaks up for them.
  5. Medication.  As part of a recovery or support plan, suitable medication can certainly help.


If someone you know (including yourself) is demotivated and/or depressed, then there are at least five things you can try:

  1. Give them your company and support
  2. Help them focus on short-term goals
  3. Help them freely access experiences and places that they enjoy
  4. Speak up for them if they are suffering at the hands of others
  5. Discuss with them the possibility of consulting a doctor about medication
We are all different, and what finally helps will be up to the character and situation of the individual.  But it’s a start.