Living with depression can be lonely, scary and difficult to talk about, and watching someone you care about struggle is tough, too – but when 1 in 6 people report experiencing depression every week (according to mental health charity Mind), it's likely we all know someone who could do with a bit of support.
Friends and family can often feel helpless, not knowing how to help someone with depression, but there are small gestures you can do - and things that you can say to help someone with depression - that could mean a lot to a loved one.
In order to help someone who is depressed, it's important to know what they might be going through. "Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in pleasurable activities and hobbies," explains psychotherapist Sharnade George of Cultureminds Therapy. "People with depression might not be their usual self, or lack energy or appetite. You may also notice mood swings in them, or that they're withdrawing from daily life, friends and family," she adds.
So, what's the best way to help a friend with depression? Here are some of the ways you can put into practice today...
1. Talk to them one on one
"The best way to approach someone who might be struggling with depression is to arrange a suitable time, place and day to have a one to one conversation with the person," says Sharnade. "People prefer talking about personal issues with one trusted person rather than a group of people, as this may feel overwhelming for them."
2. Listen, then talk
While it might be tempting to put forward solutions, it's worth listening to what your friend might be going through first. "Always listen and ask the person what help they would like first, then work together collaboratively rather trying to fix what you think is the problem," says Sharnade. Sometimes a little push towards speaking to a doctor or starting therapy can be helpful, but it has to be done in the right way (and it's worth keeping in mind that traditional therapy may not always the right solution for everybody).
3. Get outside (and away from screens)
The mental health benefits of spending time in nature have been proven, but if your loved one is struggling to take a walk, why not make it a joint activity? A run, jog or even gentle walk in the park could all be beneficial.
4. Send a text
"It takes a lot for someone to say 'I need help', but it doesn't hurt to raise the subject yourself. Sometimes you don't have to explicitly talk about mental health to find out how they are doing – it can be as simple as texting them to let them know you're thinking about them," says Mind.
5. Know when to give them space
As much as you might be worried about someone, checking in a little too frequently might not always be the best idea. People with depression can sometimes need a little bit of space, so respect their wishes if they ask for room. If you are concerned for their safety, however, don't hesitate to reach out for help.
6. Be patient
"Someone with depression may get irritable, and be more liable to misunderstand others - or feel misunderstood - than usual. They may need reassurance in some situations," says Mind. So, take a breath if you feel tension in your relationship. Let them feel those emotions and work through them, and don't jump into saying that 'everything will be fine' or to 'focus on the positives' – sometimes things will just feel rubbish, and that's OK.
7. Keep things normal
Finding subtle ways to check in, and not making everything about their mental health, is often hugely appreciated. Why not chat about the latest gossip at work, ask them to go watch a movie or even just chat over a cup of tea? A dose of normality can take the pressure off, rather than asking what you can do for them.
8. Look after yourself, too
Knowing what to say or do can be difficult and affect you, too. "Looking after yourself when supporting someone who is depressed is important. Set boundaries and ensure that you keep up a balance of being supportive to both yourself and the other person," says Sharnade.
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