How to support someone with depression

How to support someone with depression

One in four of us will experience a mental health issue such as depression in our lifetime – even if you’re not affected, the chances are someone close to you may be.

This could a friend, family member, your partner, or a colleague. ‘There’s still a lot of stigma around talking about mental health, particularly in the workplace, and men often find it particularly difficult to say they’re depressed,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny.

The Heads Together campaign, supported by the young royals, is aimed at tackling this stigma. And with celebrities like Ruby Wax and writers such as Matt Haig publishing best-selling accounts of their struggles with depression, there’s more conversation about the condition than ever before.

But that doesn’t mean people in your life will feel able to open up if they are suffering from depression; they might not even be aware that what they’re experiencing is depression. Here’s how you can help.

Spotting depression in someone else

Symptoms of depression include persistent sadness, low mood, disturbed sleep, not taking pleasure in things you used to, and feelings of worthlessness. You might also spot the following signs of depression in those close to you.

A friend may:

  • Avoid social events
  • Drink more than usual when out
  • Be tearful or snappy
  • Seem quiet or preoccupied
  • Focus on the negatives in their life

A family member may:

  • Make excuses to avoid family get-togethers
  • Seem unable to enjoy these events as much as they used to
  • Appear down or lose their temper easily
  • Look less healthy – perhaps they’ve lost or gained a lot of weight
  • Complain of aches and pains or poor sleep

A colleague may:

  • Take more sick days
  • Seem quieter in the office
  • Avoid socialising after work
  • Struggle to meet deadlines
  • Often come in late, or seem tired or hungover

If you’re concerned about your partner, learn how to spot the signs of depression and support them here.

Don’t feel guilty if you discover someone in your life has been suffering in silence. Depression is often ‘invisible’ and many people are embarrassed to admit to it, so they cover it up completely or only confide in one or two others close to them.

When a friend, relative or colleague does open up to you, it’s a good sign they feel comfortable talking to you about it. Once they have started talking, follow our dos and don’ts for supporting someone with depression.

DO

  • Keep in touch – even if it’s just a weekly call or text to check how they are. Let them know they can get in touch with you if they need to talk. This is a simple, low-pressure way to tell them you’re there for them.
  • Encourage them to get out and about. A walk in the local park or a visit to an art gallery can be a great way to lift their spirits and allow them to talk if they want to. Avoid nights out drinking as alcohol can make depression worse.
  • Ask them how they’re looking after themselves and whether there’s anything you can do to support them, such as helping them find a counsellor or looking after their children while they go to a therapy appointment.
  • Listen properly. Just letting someone talk – and cry if they need to – can be invaluable. You don’t need to have answers for them. Giving them time and space to talk is one of the most supportive things you can do.

DON’T

  • Tell them to pull themselves together or snap out of it – they would if they could.
  • Point out all the positives in their life. Depression is an illness that makes it very difficult for people to feel hopeful or optimistic, and telling them to count their blessings is likely to make them feel guilty and ashamed.
  • Pressure them to talk about their mental health all the time. Let them know they can if they want to – that's crucial – but remember simply getting them out of the house or talking about other things may be just as helpful.
  • Assume they’re better after a few weeks or months. Even if someone seems brighter for a while, this doesn’t necessarily mean their depression has gone for good. Depression can be long term and some people are susceptible to recurring bouts of depression. Those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) will also tend to feel very low and lethargic during the winter months.

The most important thing you can do is let them know you’re there for them – it can be very helpful having someone to talk to who isn’t a family member or very close friend. But try not to analyse or ‘fix’ them yourself; while you may want to help, you’re (probably) not a trained mental health professional.

Remember to look after your own wellbeing too. It may be worth talking to a counsellor if you’re struggling to cope with their illness, or it has brought up some difficult issues for you.

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