How to help someone with depression

How to help someone with depression

If you have a friend or family member who is depressed – or who you think might be depressed – it’s natural to want to help them. You’ll be keen to show them you understand and care about what they’re going through, and to support them in feeling better. It’s not always easy to know how best to do this, however.

You’ll probably have noticed your friend or family member becoming more withdrawn. People who are depressed tend to start avoiding social contact, saying “no” to doing things they’d normally have enjoyed. They probably won’t want to talk very much. Not surprisingly, isolating themselves and doing less can actually make them feel worse.

One of the most effective things you can do – which is an approach therapists take when they’re treating someone with depression – is to gently encourage the person to keep doing things, and to increase their activity level rather than pulling back. And it’s important that whatever they do is meaningful to them, if it’s to have a benefit.

Consider what you know about the person you want to help. What’s really important to them? Are they creative? Are they sporty, or into keeping themselves fit? Are they a parent? What about their partner – do they have a shared hobby or interest?

It can also be useful to put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself what sort of friend they’d want you to be. Everyone has different needs, and every friendship and family relationship has its own dynamics. Letting them know you’re there to listen – or just to sit in silence, if that’s what they need – can be extremely valuable.

If you’re inviting the person to join you for a social occasion or event, give them lots of reassurance that there are no expectations. Nobody expects them to be the life and soul of the party; they can just come along and ‘be’. Say “we know you’re not feeling great right now, and it doesn’t matter – we want you around, so let’s just do it”. If they say no, keep coming back and opening the invitation again.

This is really important, because people who are feeling depressed often worry that they’re a burden to others, or that they’ll ‘put a downer on the mood’ if they attend a social event. Knowing that they’re not being rejected, and that people care and still want their company, can be very helpful.

Another way you can support someone with depression is to gently try and motivate them to seek help, when you feel the time is right. Making an appointment with their GP or healthcare practitioner can be the first step on the path to feeling better.

Finally, don’t forget about yourself. Aaron Beck, who created cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), advises therapists not to treat more than three patients with depression in a day because it can take a lot of energy to give the support they need. So make sure you look after yourself, as well!

Published 15 Aug 2019
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