How friends & family can help someone with depression

Discover how to understand depression, recognise its symptoms and potential causes, and explore ways to find treatment and support for someone you care about.

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To support someone with depression, you can encourage them to seek help by reassuring them that it’s perfectly acceptable to ask for assistance and that support is available.

While you cannot compel someone to get help against their will, offering your support can make a significant difference. Assisting with practical matters, such as researching available services or accompanying them to appointments, can be incredibly helpful.

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Be open about depression

Many people struggle to express their feelings due to fear of judgment or misunderstanding. By creating an environment where depression and challenging emotions can be discussed freely, you signal to them that their experiences are valid and worth sharing.

Approach conversations with honesty and without judgment, demonstrating that you are there to listen and support them. This openness can significantly ease the isolation often felt in depression, making it easier for them to seek the help and understanding they need.

Keep in touch

Maintaining contact is key, especially since people with depression might not always have the energy to reach out. Making an effort to stay in touch, even through simple gestures like a text message or email, can significantly impact their well-being by showing them you’re thinking about them.

It’s important not to pressure them for a response; the primary goal is to let them know you’re there and ready to support them whenever they’re ready to connect.

Don’t be critical

It’s crucial not to be critical. Understanding depression can be challenging, especially if you’ve never experienced it yourself. It might be tempting to wonder why someone can’t simply “snap out of it.”

However, avoid blaming them or urging them to recover quickly. People with depression are often their own harshest critics, so additional pressure can be counterproductive. Showing patience and compassion instead can make a meaningful difference in their journey to wellness.

Find the right balance

While you might feel inclined to handle everything for them, and there are practical ways you can assist, such as with chores or cooking, it’s also beneficial to encourage some independence.

The support needed varies from person to person, so asking directly what they find helpful can guide your efforts. Additionally, helping them identify tasks they feel capable of tackling can empower them.

Simplifying challenging tasks is another way to help. For instance, setting up a routine for online grocery shopping or suggesting simple batch-cooking recipes they can freeze for later might significantly ease their burden. This approach not only provides support but also fosters a sense of achievement and autonomy.

Continue sharing activities and conversations

When someone is dealing with depression, it might seem like that’s all your relationship revolves around. But remember, depression is just one part of their life. Keeping up with activities you usually enjoy together can be really helpful. Whether it’s watching your favourite TV show, engaging in a shared hobby, or just chatting about your day, these moments can bring a sense of normalcy and connection.

Take care of yourself

Caring for someone with depression can be challenging on your own mental health. It’s vital to remember that your wellbeing matters too. If you’re feeling guilty about taking time for yourself, try to let go of that guilt. It’s natural to want to be there for someone constantly, especially if you live with or care for them, and you might feel like you should always prioritise their needs over your own.

However, it’s perfectly okay—and necessary—to allocate time for your own self-care. In fact, looking after your own mental and emotional health can make you a stronger support for them. Taking care of yourself isn’t just good for you; it’s beneficial for the person you’re supporting too.

How to start a conversation

Starting a conversation with someone experiencing depression can feel daunting, but expressing your support and understanding is crucial. Here are some tips on what to say to convey empathy and offer help:

Supportive Things to Say

  • “I’m sorry you’re going through this. I’m here for you.”
  • “You mean a lot to me. How can I support you right now?”
  • “How have you been feeling lately?”
  • “Is there anything specific I can do for you today? Maybe keep you company or help around the house?”

What to Avoid Saying

  • Avoid phrases like “Just cheer up” or “Think positive,” which might seem dismissive.
  • Don’t invalidate their feelings with statements like “You don’t look that sad.”
  • Comparing their struggles to others by saying, “Others have it worse”, isn’t helpful.
  • Blaming them, for instance, “If you exercised more, you wouldn’t feel this way,” can make them feel worse.
  • Accusing them of being selfish or not considering others’ feelings is unkind and unhelpful.

Remember, the goal is to make them feel seen and supported, not judged or misunderstood. Your approach can make a significant difference in their journey.

What to do if they don’t want help

If someone with depression doesn’t want to seek help, it can be a challenging situation, leaving you feeling frustrated and powerless. It’s important to recognize the limits of how much you can help someone. Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Be Patient: There might be reasons they’re hesitant to seek help that you’re unaware of. Patience is crucial.
  2. Provide Emotional Support: Continuously reassure them of your care and readiness to support them whenever they decide to seek help.
  3. Inform About Help Options: Gently inform them about where and how they can get help when ready without pressuring them.
  4. Take Care of Your Own Well-being: It’s essential to look after your own mental health to prevent becoming overwhelmed or unwell yourself.

Understanding and support can make a significant difference, even if they’re not ready to seek help yet.

Supporting someone in an emergency

There may be times when your friend or family member needs to seek help more urgently. For example, if they:

  • Have harmed themselves and need medical attention
  • Are having suicidal feelings and feel they may act on them
  • Are putting themselves or someone else at immediate, serious risk of harm

If they’re not safe by themselves right now

Help them call 999 for an ambulance and stay with them, if you can. Or you could help them get to A&E. They may appreciate it if you can wait with them until they can see a doctor.

If they can keep themselves safe for a little while

You can get quick medical advice by contacting NHS 111 in England or NHS 111 Wales (in Wales, you can select option 2 for urgent mental health support). Or you could help them make an emergency GP appointment to see a doctor soon.

You could also suggest that they call Samaritans on 116 123 to talk to someone 24 hours a day. Or try another helpline or listening service.

It may also help to remove things they could use to harm themselves. This is especially if they’ve mentioned specific things they might use.

Get support

Talk with a trained professional about your thoughts and feelings with out free counselling and private counselling service for people over the age of 18.

Counselling Private Counselling