What can you do to help?
For people affected by depression, discussing their condition with family and friends, and asking them for their help, can be very daunting. They may feel too scared, ashamed or overwhelmed to admit how they are feeling. Tackling depression may seem an impossible challenge. This is when the encouragement and support of a friend is vital to help them feel less isolated and more motivated to actively work on overcoming depression.
By being a supportive friend, you can encourage someone affected by depression to seek help, receive a correct diagnosis and agree on a treatment with their doctor. But how do you approach this subject with them? You may feel that you need some advice to take the first step. Here are some top tips to start the communication:
Talking about depression with your friend
Some of the symptoms of depression (low mood, irritability and fatigue) can make it difficult for someone affected by depression to maintain friendships. Often someone affected by depression may withdraw from social contacts and may not actively seek to address their problem with their friends. And as mental health conditions are still often associated with a stigma in society, both parties may feel uncomfortable addressing the issue. This is why you as a friend may have to take the first step.
If you suspect your friend may be affected by depression, then you should seek positive ways to show your support and reassure them that you will take them seriously and that you will be there for them to lean on.
You could do this by saying:
You are important to me
You're not alone in this and I'm here for you
You don't have to feel guilty or ashamed, this isn't your fault
I can't really understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion and be a friend to you
I'm going to be there for you to lean on. I'm not going to leave you or abandon you
When all this is over, I'll still be here for you
I'm sorry that you're in so much pain. I am going to take care of myself, so you don't need to worry that your pain might hurt me. You're not alone and neither am I
I love you (if you mean it)
Also consider offering them a hug if you feel comfortable with this.
Try to avoid saying negative things such as:
- Pull yourself together.
- No one ever said that life was easy.
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Get a grip.
- So, you're depressed. Aren't you always?
- There's always someone worse off than you are.
- Just try not to be so depressed.
- It's your own fault.
Believe me, I know how you feel. I feel depressed sometimes too.
Once you have approached the subject with your friend, encourage them to visit their doctor (if they haven't done this yet), and ensure that they take any prescribed medication as directed and follow any other therapies recommended by their doctor. Besides the professional support your friend will need, there are also ways in which you as a friend can help them get better.
Some lifestyle changes can help people cope with depression. You can help by encouraging your friend to:
Go outside for some fresh air and sunlight every day – why not invite them for a walk or do some gardening if they don't feel like facing the world?
Take regular moderate exercise – you can suggest you do the exercise together. Encourage them to participate in the exercise by reminding them how good they usually feel afterwards.
Avoid being self-critical – you can help by recognising their accomplishments, however small, and making positive comments whenever possible, e.g. remind them that last week they had three good days and the week before they had two – they're getting better all the time.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet – suggest cooking together or invite your friend over for a meal.
Be aware that your friend may just need to rest – offer practical support like shopping and cleaning the house. Try to balance motivating them without asking them to do more than they are ready for. If your friend has stopped taking care of themselves you could try bringing round some nice soap or bubble bath. It will help them relax and improve their self-esteem.
You can also help them by:
Staying in touch on the phone and/or by e-mail.
Avoiding activities where too much alcohol is consumed as drinking can make symptoms worse.
Making time for activities that you can enjoy together.
Generally, you should motivate your friend to learn about depression and depression treatments. This will encourage them to follow their course of treatment as instructed by their doctor and seek help if something doesn't work for them. They will also see that recovery is possible. You may find it useful to learn about depression together as your friend's concentration and memory might be affected. Audio books are a great way to absorb information if your friend finds it difficult to concentrate on written information.
If your friend is talking about or has attempted suicide
Thoughts of suicide and death can be a major symptom of depression, and should be taken very seriously. If a friend expresses suicidal ideas, reassure them that their life is important to you and many other people and that the appropriate treatment will help them to get better. No matter how hard it may seem to look after someone with suicidal thoughts, it is important to show that you care.
If your friend has suicidal thoughts, talk to other professionals (e.g. GP, emergency services, social services) for advice on how you can help them to stay safe, and encourage your friend to access help and support too. Keeping contact details for support helplines close to hand is also important e.g. Aware loCall Helpline 1890 303 302; Samaritans 1850 60 90 90; 1Life 1800 24 7 100.