If you’re worried that a loved one might be experiencing depression and want to help them, you’re already a great friend. But it can be hard to know exactly how to support them

If you have a loved one who is currently experiencing depression, it can be a worrying and uncertain time. You might feel that you don’t know what to say, or how to help them.

Truth be told, it’s not easy to see someone you love struggle. And, if you neglect your own wellbeing in the process, it can become overwhelming. That being said, there are some simple steps you can take to support your loved one’s mental health.

Here are six things you can do to help a friend with depression.

1. Watch for symptoms

Admittedly, there aren’t always obvious signs that someone is struggling but, quite often, we can notice changes in behaviour before we know that someone has a problem.

Look out for the following signs:

  • They don’t seem to care about anything anymore. Have they lost interest in work or their hobbies? Have they withdrawn from friends, family, or social activities?
  • They express a negative outlook on life. Are they uncharacteristically sad, irritable, short-tempered, or moody?
  • They have physical aches and pains. Are they frequently complaining of headaches, stomach problems, or back pain? Are they feeling tired and drained all the time?
  • Their eating habits have changed. Are they eating more or less than usual? Have they recently gained or lost weight?

2. Listen without judgement

Find a quiet moment where you can check-in with your loved one, undisturbed. Let them speak about what they feel or think. Even if you can’t relate to what they’re going through, they will take comfort from your listening. Try to hold eye contact, and listen without interrupting or offering solutions.

If you want to give them some words of encouragement, let them know they won’t always feel this way. It might sound simple, but genuine, heartfelt statements like these can give your loved one hope:

“You’re not alone. I’m here for you.”

“It might be hard to believe right now, but the way you’re feeling will change.”

“Even if I’m not able to understand exactly how you feel, I care about you and want to help.”

“I’m proud of you for opening up about this. You’re so important
to me.”

3. Encourage them to see a professional

It can be difficult to convince someone who’s struggling to see a specialist, but this is often the first step towards getting better. It’s important to reiterate this to your loved one.

Try to encourage them to see their doctor. You could say something like: “I’m worried about you and I think it would be good to talk to a doctor about what’s been going on lately.” A GP will be able to explore all suitable options, whether that’s medication, counselling, or a combination of the two.

Talk to your friend about what they might like your help with, and identify things they can try to do themselves

4. Support them in the best possible way for them

If someone is struggling, you might feel like you want to offer them more practical support. But while it might be thoughtful to offer to help them with certain things – like working out how or when to let their employer know what’s going on – it’s also important to allow them to do things in their own time.

Everyone is different, and we all benefit from different kinds of support. Talk to your friend or family member about what they might like your help with, and identify things they can try to do themselves.

One of the simplest things you can do is to make them smile. The idea that ‘laughter is the best medicine’ might not be scientifically proven, but a little laughter can indeed help to improve our mood. So, when they’re feeling up to it, make some plans that they will enjoy.

5. Don’t forget about yourself, too

It can be emotionally challenging to help someone with depression. Practise what you preach, and follow the self-care behaviours you want your friend to adopt – eating healthy meals, moving your body, and getting enough sleep at the very least. It can help to reinforce to your loved one that self-care is an important tool in maintaining mental wellness.

For more information on support for depression visit counselling-directory.org.uk