Supporting someone who is experiencing depression: what can you do to help?

We all experience changes in our emotions and mood daily, from week to week, month to month. It is very normal that we may feel sad or a bit low in mood for example in response to a loved one going away, or we may feel excited at the prospect of going to a concert with friends. When we feel low in mood over a prolonged period, along with other changes such as poor sleep, little interest or pleasure in doing things, feeling tired or having a lack of energy or feeling hopeless and that we are a failure, then we may be depressed.

Depression is a serious health condition, and it is rather unhelpful to say that it is ‘all in your head’ or ‘pull your socks up’ as it can be quite debilitating and at worst, can result in completed suicide. However, it is important to understand that treatments for depression have come a long way and it can be effectively treated through psychological therapy e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or anti-depressant medication, or a combination of both. It is essential to contact a GP as soon as possible as they can diagnose if the person is depressed and discuss treatment options promptly.

In modern life, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 300 million people according to the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2018). In fact, depression has been referred to as the ‘common cold’ of psychiatry, and it is on the rise. It is now more likely than ever that we may come into contact with someone who may be depressed. Perhaps this may be someone whom we are close to such as a family member, or a friend or work colleague. We can feel helpless and not know what to do in as much as we want to help the other person.

In my clinic, it is not uncommon that parents and partners contact me on behalf of their close ones, seeking advice on psychological treatment. Frequently they also ask for advice on how best they can support the other person. Therefore, I have put a few pointers below, chances are that you are already doing a lot of them.

In general, it is helpful to:
• Be genuinely interested in what they are going through
• Be non-judgemental and open to trying to accept even if you may not agree with or understand what is happening
• Be patient especially when they may not be able to do what they used to do, or may not answer certain questions fully
• Continue to show that you care and are there for them
• Offer a listening ear. Sometimes you do not have to say much, a nod of the head, a kind concerned look, or a smile may be enough.
• Offer practical help e.g. going to appointments, contacting NHS Direct 111 or Samaritans 116 123 or emergency services in times of need.
• Say if you do not know and not try to come up with logical answers which can minimise their experiences
• Try to continue to involve in activities and not exclude without checking first
• Show empathy and be willing to help them move forward.
• Never give up, depression can get better and advances in both public and research knowledge, and treatments these days make it more likely.

There is also a related YouTube video by WHO below which is aimed at providing tips for those living with someone who is experiencing depression. Most people find it very helpful in its animated and easy to understand format.

I hope this article has been of some benefit to you if you are thinking how best to help someone who may be depressed. The main thing is being there for them unconditionally, and this is can be so valuable to a fellow human.

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Munya Chigwada

BABCP Accredited Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapist

in Reading, Berkshire, UK

I'm located in Reading, Berkshire,
Call Me 0774 9480 661