How to Support Someone Dealing with Depression

Depression is often a very private, very lonely struggle – let your loved ones know you refuse to let them go it alone.

Apart from all the symptoms associated with mental health issues, there tends to be the additional strain of feeling like it is a burden you are carrying, must carry, on your own. I felt that way for years as I battled depression. Locked in the gloom, I knew somewhere deep inside myself that my life could be better. The misery, however, made it impossible for me to see how I was going to make that first step on the road to improvement. 

Looking back now, I realize a fact I didn’t know then: overcoming depression was not something I could do on my own. I needed support from those around me and after years of self-imposed isolation, I was finally so fortunate to get that support. It came in the form of encouraging words, practical suggestions and quite often, just having someone there. I will be eternally grateful for it. 

We’re all connected and need each other to heal.

Here are some ways you can show your support to someone you know is struggling with a mental health problem.

Act Now

There is no need to know all the specifics of a person’s condition in order to show them that you are there for them. Think about it, if a friend told you they had cancer would you need any kind of proof or details about it before your empathy for their situation begins to flow? Why should it be any different toward someone whose “situation” is depression? 

Just knowing they are going through a rough patch is sufficient reason to check on them and how they are coping. Above all, reach out as soon as you see any warning signs that something may be wrong. The longer you wait, the lonelier and more difficult their situation may become.

Start the Conversation

Choose a quiet place with few distractions and little chance of interruptions. You can start out with a gentle observation of their recent behavior or mood. If there was a particular incident they had to go through (a loved one’s death, for instance), you could simply inquire how they are coping now.

Offer a listening and non-judgmental ear as you allow them to say as much or as little as they are comfortable with. By being a good listener, you encourage your friend to open up and share more about how they are feeling. 

Remember, too, even if you have had experience with mental health problems yourself or had someone close to you who did, you should not try to “diagnose” your friend’s particular issue. No two persons go through a mental health issue in the same way. 

Make Professional Help an Option

While it is good for your friend to have someone to talk to, you should also suggest that they seek out professional help. Let them know mental health conditions are not uncommon and they are treatable. Point out that there is plenty of help out there for them to access and offer to help them find it. 

Speaking with their primary healthcare provider or family doctor is a good starting point. If they are nervous about the visit, you can offer to accompany them and enjoy flipping through old magazines in the waiting room while they are in with the doctor. Just knowing you are there and having the company on the trip to and from the doctor’s office will help your friend feel more secure and confident.

Encourage General Wellness

Exercising, sleeping and eating well, along with taking a step back from stressful situations can all be beneficial to overall wellbeing and mental health. So, too, is taking up a hobby or engaging in activities that you find fulfilling. 

Suggest outings to places without too much noise, people or activity where your friend will feel comfortable. You can back up your suggestions on wellness with an offer like, “Hey, I’ve been meaning to get more active myself. How about we meet up for a jog a couple of evenings a week?”

Know What NOT to Say 

Sometimes, even in the most well-meaning of spirits, we say the wrong things to someone who is trying to cope with a mental health condition. Perhaps, it’s an attempt to hide our own discomfort with the topic. Quite often, it is simply a lack of understanding of mental health in general or the specific mental health issue the person is dealing with. 

Try not to say things like, “That doesn’t sound so bad,” in response to what they share with you. That’s a judgment call on your part which may make it seem like you think they are over-reacting. Likewise, telling them “I’m sure this will all blow over soon,” is another way of telling them they don’t need to seek help, just continue weathering it on their own. 

Be Prepared for Resistance

It is very likely that when you express your concern, your friend will be offended and insist they are fine. They may tell you that they can handle things on their own and do not need your or anybody else’s help. That is sort of normal – aren’t we constantly being told how important it is to be independent and self-sufficient, able to take on and conquer the world? This is why we often view seeking help as a sign of weakness or a failure to measure up to what is expected of us. 

If your friend pushes you away, do not take it personally and do not become insistent at that moment. Simply make it a point to continue checking on them and reassuring them you are there to listen whenever they are ready to talk. Believe me, although it may not seem like it, they are hearing you and registering what you are saying. It may become invaluable to them later on. Keep at it.

We all know mental disorders are stigmatized, making those suffering from them fearful of the reaction others will have and therefore unlikely to reach out for help. It then becomes our responsibility as their friends or loved ones to reach out to them, instead. 

“Mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders.” 

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the World Health Organization