If you have a friend or family member who is depressed, it can be difficult to know how to help. You may feel unsure of what to say and how to act, or confused about whether you should stay in close contact or leave the person alone completely.
“There are many ways for you to make a difference.”
While you may feel like there’s nothing you can do to help, there are many ways for you to make a difference. Here are some strategies for supporting someone close to you who is depressed.
Fill your own cup first
It is difficult to support a close family member or friend with depression if you aren’t feeling healthy and well. Make sure you are looking after yourself by following the essential healthy living strategies that are beneficial for your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing.
Eat fresh, healthy foods, limit alcohol and processed foods, drink plenty of water and get enough sleep. The best way to fill your cup is to live a healthy lifestyle.
When someone close to you is struggling, it can be tempting to offer advice and give your opinion. But many people with depression don’t necessarily want suggestions – they just want someone to listen to them without judgement.
Asking questions and listening without feeling the need to respond is a helpful way to show you care. Let your friend or family member talk openly. If they aren’t sure of what to say, ask them if they want to talk. Your friend may just want someone to be physically present with, which is completely fine. Simply spending time together shows you care and are supporting your friend.
Offer to help with specific tasks
If you would like to help someone with depression, offering to help isn’t as useful as suggesting specific tasks you can do. People with depression may not know what they want or need, so being precise with your suggestions can help.
Here are some examples of questions you can ask:
- What are you having for dinner? Would you like me to bring you something?
- Would you like me to mow your lawn?
- When is your next medical appointment? Do you want me to take you there?
- What time are you free to go for a walk tomorrow?
Your friend or family member may feel like they are being a burden by asking for help. Reassure them that they are not a burden and that you want to help.
Other tips to help you support people with depression
Here are some other ways you can help someone with depression:
- Learn about depression – familiarise yourself with the symptoms, risk factors and treatments so you can better understand what your friend or family member is experiencing
- Avoid giving advice – people with depression aren’t necessarily looking for advice, just a caring friend to listen or simply spend time with
- Don’t take the behaviour personally – if you feel like they are ignoring you, being abrupt or avoiding you, don’t take it personally but give them space
- Continue to stay in touch – even if your friend or family member acts like they don’t want you around, send messages occasionally to show you care
- Recognise if you need support – if the person with depression is taking up a lot of your time and energy, make sure you find the time to take a break and look after yourself.
How to encourage people with depression to get professional support
Many people with depression can benefit from seeing a dedicated mental health professional. It’s important to reach out and get support before the person’s condition reaches a crisis point. If you’re not sure where to start, contact your GP. You can also phone SuicideLine Victoria on 1300 651 251 to speak to a counsellor.
SuicideLine Victoria is a free 24/7 telephone and online counselling service offering professional support to people at risk of suicide, people concerned about someone else’s risk of suicide, and people bereaved by suicide.
If it is an emergency, please call 000.