It can be very hard seeing someone you care about going through depression. Luckily, you don’t have to be a mental health expert to help – just being there for your friend or loved one can make all the difference.
How do I know if it’s depression?
We all feel sad or low sometimes. For most of us, the feelings pass in a few weeks at most and don’t interfere with our lives too much. But if someone you care about seems unhappy most of the time, or keeps getting low over and over again, they may have depression.
There are lots of changes which might make you suspect depression. Someone with depression may seem to lose interest in life and find it hard to cope with their day-to-day activities. Perhaps they seem tired but aren’t sleeping well. They may lose interest in their food. You may notice that they don’t want to go out and be with other people.
As depression can come on gradually, the person themselves often doesn’t notice. It sometimes takes a friend or family member to realise that there’s a problem.
How can I help?
Listen. Try not to offer advice unless they ask, just listen to what they say. Don’t worry if you don’t feel you’re doing anything – you’re helping by just letting them talk.
- Keep in touch regularly. Spend time together if possible. If it's not easy to meet up, a phone call or text will show them that you care and that they’re not alone.
- Be encouraging and hopeful. Depression can make someone feel that things will never change. Keep reassuring them that they will get better.
- Offer practical help. Perhaps picking up some shopping, cooking a meal or helping with lifts. But don’t do too much. It’s important that someone with depression keeps doing things for themselves if they can.
- Encourage them to seek help from their GP. Let them know it’s okay to ask for help and that there are treatments that work for depression.
Look after yourself
If you’re supporting someone with depression, it’s important to look after your own emotional and physical health. This isn’t selfish – you need to be emotionally strong to support others.
- Take a break when you need it or if you begin to feel overwhelmed. Do something you enjoy, or just have a rest.
- Be realistic and set boundaries – you can only do so much. Remember, you can’t ‘fix’ someone else’s depression; you’re not to blame for their unhappiness. You can help, but they’ll need to seek support for themselves.
- Keep up your own daily routine as much as you can. Keep your plans with friends and continue to do things you enjoy.
- Stay healthy – try to make sure you eat healthily, get some exercise and sleep properly.
- Get some support for yourself – speak to a trusted friend or a counsellor, or you may want to join a carer’s support group. You don’t need to betray any confidences – just talk about your own emotions.
Finding out more and getting support
Have a look at our health information section on ‘Healthy mind’ for lots of advice and information about mental health.
The charity MIND has a telephone helpline (0300 123 3393) and lots of information on their website about depression and how to cope with it. And you might find it helps to join a local group for carers, which will give you a chance to share experiences and get support.
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