Having depression can be challenging, both for the person experiencing it and for the people around them, whether it's a partner, family member, friend or colleague. This is a list of some ideas for how to show your support for someone who is going through a difficult time:
1. Be there. Spend time with the person, listen to their experience, and show empathy. It can be tempting to launch into ‘problem solving mode’ and make some suggestions about what they can or should do. However, it is not that easy to just feel better and stop being depressed. Spending time with someone, listening, and showing you care can be really helpful in letting the person know they are not alone.
2. Find out about depression. Find out about the symptoms of depression, as it can involve more than feeling sad or down. Other signs can include sleep difficulties, low motivation, and having a hard time concentrating. Also, check out some options where professional support can be accessed, so you are able to make suggestions if the depressed person asks for help. However, keep in mind you cannot force anyone to see a GP or psychologist, but it can be helpful to know of some resources just in case the depressed person asks for some options in getting help.
3. Offer some practical support. It can be hard for people with depression to think clearly or make decisions so it can be useful to offer some specific practical help. This could include asking if they would like some help with housework, making a cup of tea, or offering a ride to the GP.
4. Suggest activities. People with depression can have low energy and motivation and they withdraw from pleasurable or social activities when it is actually really important to keep up daily tasks. The depressed person may not feel up to their usual activity levels, so make some suggestions for activities more suited to their current situation. This might include catching up for coffee with a friend rather than attending a large social gathering, or going to a movie or other activity that reduces the social demands placed on them. But also, remember to respect their wishes if they really do not want to participate.
5. Be careful with your words. Phrases such as “cheer up”, or “your life is great, what have you got to be depressed about??” are usually unhelpful as they can make the depressed person feel worse about being depressed and/or completely misunderstood. Instead, it can be helpful to try and validate their experience, such as acknowledging they are going through a tough time but letting them know you are there for them.
6. Look after yourself. It can be really exhausting and difficult supporting someone who is depressed, as you need to be patient, kind, and show caring to someone that may appear they do not care or appreciate the support. So, it is important that you are looking after yourself as well as your loved one. This can include making sure you take time out for yourself, spending time with friends (even if you don’t talk about what is going on), eating well, and trying to get enough sleep and rest. Also, acknowledge that you are doing a great thing by supporting your loved one who is going through a tough time – it is not easy!
7. Get help if you have any concerns about suicide or self-harm. You can let your loved one know if you are worried about their safety but it is also really important to seek professional help if you have any concerns about someone’s safety. In New Zealand, we have a number of support agencies available, including the Suicide Crisis line on 0508 828 865 or Lifeline on 0800 543 354. There is also support available through the local community mental health support services, and the urgent assistance contact number in Auckland is 0800 800 717.