Tips on how to help someone with depression

Depression is an overwhelming and isolating mental health disorder, and it can be extremely difficult to see someone you care for suffering with it. It can affect anyone at any stage of life and can cause significant problems in all kinds of relationships. The nature of depression can cause people who are experiencing it to withdraw from those around them, which can make it very hard to know how to help.

If a loved one has depression, you might feel frustrated, worried and even angry at the situation, especially if you have tried to offer advice that they haven’t taken and/or you have never experienced depression yourself. You might worry about upsetting them or saying the wrong thing, which might make you reluctant to say or do anything at all. Sometimes, worrying about your loved one can even start to impact your own mental health.

It’s important to remember that there are ways you can help someone with depression, although you should also take care to protect your own health and wellbeing at the same time. To help your loved one with depression, you must take steps to safeguard your own mental health; you’ll need it to support them through their recovery.

How to help someone with depression

Learn about depression

Forewarned is forearmed, and this is certainly true when it comes to helping a loved one or friend who has depression. It can be next to impossible for someone living with the illness to explain how they feel, so it can help to educate yourself on the facts in order to better understand what they’re going through. Despite being a common mental health issue, depression is still surrounded by myths and considerable stigma, so take time to read up on the realities of experiencing depression.

As a starting point, take a look at resources on depression from the NHS, Depression UK and Mind.

Remember depression is not personal

Depression can be a deeply distressing condition and it can cause people who are experiencing it to act in ways their friends and families simply don’t understand or recognise. In many cases, someone with depression will purposely distance themselves from others, becoming withdrawn, sullen, cold and hostile.

It’s never easy to be on the receiving end of these kind of emotions, but it’s vital to remember that nine times out of 10, it’s the depression talking, not your loved one. Try to keep in mind that their behaviour is not about you, but a result of the condition they’re experiencing. This is especially important to remember if it is your partner who has depression, as their actions towards you can feel particularly painful.

Be patient

Depression is a very real condition, not a personality flaw or something your loved one has any control over by sheer force of will. They cannot ‘snap out of it’ or try harder to ‘get over it.’

Much as we think that ‘tough love’ or pointing out the things in life they have to be grateful for may help, the reality of depression is that simply does not work that way. Rather than focusing on trying to change how your loved one feels, try to concentrate on just being there for them and offering a listening ear.

Offer practical support

Many people with depression avoid others and may even stop caring for themselves and their surroundings. It’s not uncommon for someone with depression to feel completely overwhelmed by everyday tasks they would normally think nothing of, such as cleaning the house or paying bills.

This is where offering to step in to help with these kinds of practical tasks can be invaluable. See if there’s anything you can do to help your loved one cope on a day to day basis, such as cooking a meal, tidying the house or walking the dog.

Realise that you cannot fix their depression

While you can offer emotional and practical support to your loved one, you cannot ‘fix’ their depression or rescue them from it, nor is it your responsibility to do so. Just as it’s important not to put pressure on your loved one to ‘snap out’ of their depression, it’s also vital not to task yourself single-handedly with their recovery.

Interested in helping people with depression professionally?

You can encourage your loved one to seek help from their GP or a professional counsellor or therapist, but realise that this can feel like a daunting or even pointless action to them. Depression often results in negative thinking, and many people who experience it simply cannot see how anyone can help them. It can be especially difficult to help someone with depression who doesn’t want help, but be patient. Offer to go with them to their first appointment, and encourage them to list the ways in which their condition affects them.

To find out more about coping with depression or helping those who are experiencing it, please get in touch. Alternatively, if you're interested in becoming a counsellor to help people with depression and other mental health problems then be sure to check out our counselling courses and start a new career today.