Depression is a serious but treatable mental health condition that affects the lives of millions of people across the world. In our previous article, we talked about depression, what it looks like, its possible causes, and how to tell if a person is at risk of depression. But knowing the signs is only the first step. What happens when you start to see these signs in a friend, family member, colleague or even yourself? What steps can you take to treat depression?
In this article, we are going to discuss ways to help someone with depression, prevention methods and what support services are available in Australia.
!! If you or someone you care for is having suicidal thoughts, please call triple zero (000) or go to your nearest emergency department immediately.
Things we can do to help someone with depression.
1 Communicate with them
Communication plays an important part in helping someone with depression as it will help the person feel less alone and more supported. We should take some time to think about how we are going to raise the subject, how we should respond and how to show our support.
Before we raise the subject, we need to consider two things:
- The timing. When is the person most likely to be attentive?
- The environment. Where does the person feel most comfortable and or at ease? Is this place safe and free from interruption?
When you are both at the right place and time, don’t hesitate to raise your concerns. Explaining why you are concerned, or how you’ve noticed their changes in behaviour and mood, will help the person to open up. You can ask things like:
- “You haven’t seemed yourself lately, is everything okay?”
- “I’ve noticed that you’re not hanging out much with us lately, what’s going on?
- “I’m worried about you. Would you like to talk with me about something that’s happened?”
We must understand that the person may not want to talk about it just yet. Instead of pushing them to talk, we need to be patient and let the person know that they can talk to us whenever they need to. The main thing is to stay in touch and do things together which ensures the person feels supported. Over time, the person might open up more to you or you can seek another appropriate opportunity to start the conversation again.
If the person’s circumstances haven’t improved and they still refuse to talk about it, you could suggest other trustworthy people who they may prefer to talk to, such as a parent, partner, teacher, sibling, or a confidential helpline.
Listening is very important in any type of communication, especially when you’re trying to talk to someone with depression or anxiety.
Everyone’s experience and feelings are unique to them, so it is best to encourage them to talk, listen to them and try to understand their experience and feeling without judgment. We can encourage them to talk by saying things like:
- “How are you feeling about that?”
- “How’s that affecting you?”
- “It must be tough for you for the past few weeks, can you tell me more about what happened?”
At this stage, it’s crucial that we remain supportive and don’t be judgmental even if what they shared is hard for you to hear or understand. Your support is one of the most important elements for your loved one’s recovery from depression.
As much as we want our loved ones to get the professional help they need as soon as possible, it could take some time for them to be ready. We need to respect their decision even though we may not agree. Don’t make your support conditional and force them to take action straight away. Instead, reassure them that you are here for them, and professional support is available when they are ready.
Make it as easy as possible for the person to get help. A simple question like “What can I do to help or support you?” may provide a great opportunity for the person to take the right steps to recovery.
Remember, it takes trust and courage for the person to share their experience and feelings with you, so make sure the conversation you have is private and confidential. The only exception to this rule is if the person has indicated they intend to harm themselves or others. If you believe someone is at risk of serious injury or worse, you need to contact emergency services immediately.
2 Offer to help
Depression is a mental health condition that is best managed by a qualified health practitioner. So, we should encourage the person with depression to seek professional help if they haven’t done it already. Seeing a qualified mental health practitioner can help in having a diagnosis and discussing the best possible treatment according to the person’s circumstance.
However, finding and working with a health practitioner can be quite an overwhelming experience for someone with depression. Offering your help, when both of you are comfortable with it, is beneficial for the recovery of your loved one. Providing the person with information regarding depression or mental health, such as some factsheets or booklets, can help them understand their conditions and what supports are available.
The person might not want to get the help they need straight away but give them time to think about it, then wait and try again later. It is important to be patient, supportive and encouraging.
When they are ready to see a health practitioner, you may even offer to help them make an appointment, take them to and from the appointment, or help with other tasks so they can focus on their recovery. This will increase their willingness to continue getting the help they need, and it also reassures them that they are very much loved and supported.
3 Stay in touch and do positive activities together
People who are experiencing depression are commonly more withdrawn from social activities. Therefore, it’s important for us to reach out to them to make sure that they are safe and see if they need our help. Let them know that you’re thinking of them and you would like to spend some time together if they feel up for it. Activities like yoga, swimming, or making art have a positive influence on our mind, mood and overall wellbeing. So, you can both benefit from doing these activities together.
Although sometimes the cause of depression or mental illness is hard to pinpoint, there are some very good prevention strategies to help you stay well:
- Stay active and exercise regularly. Many reports and studies have shown that exercising regularly can help treat depression and prevent it along with many other health benefits.
- Eat healthily. Although there is no specific diet that can directly cure or prevent depression, certain foods and eating habits are helpful in the overall treatment, such as protein, leafy greens, whole grains, various vitamins and so on.
- Avoid harmful levels of alcohol and other substance use. We have mentioned that alcohol and substance use can both lead to and result from depression in our previous article, so we must stay mindful of the intake of both.
- Take breaks and use other relaxation techniques to avoid or reduce anxiety. Some common relaxation techniques include meditation, visualisation, hypnosis, and breathing exercises.
- Form and stick to a healthy sleep routine. Many studies have proven the importance of sleep to human health. Almost all people who have experienced depression also have sleep problems. So, having a healthy sleep routine is important for us to keep our body and mind healthy.
- Stay sociable to avoid isolation. Keeping social connections is good for both dealing with and preventing depression.
Looking after yourself
If you’re ever in a position where you’re helping someone with depression, it’s equally important to look after yourself at the same time. Use the prevention strategies listed above and seek support when you need to.
When depression becomes very severe, thoughts of self-harm might emerge, and these can lead people with depression to seriously hurt themselves or worse – put their own life in jeopardy. If you’re in a situation where you believe someone’s life or general wellbeing is at risk, make sure you’re aware of the best help and support services available.
If you or someone you care for is in an emergency, call triple zero (000) immediately and/or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.
If you or your loved ones need someone to talk to, there are a few great options:
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
- Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467
- Health professionals, such as a GP, counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. breakthru offers both psychology and counselling services to help individuals improve their mental and overall wellbeing.
- Social circle, such as family or friends, a teacher or coach, a work colleague, and/or a religious leader.
The following websites also provide information, tools, and resource about mental wellbeing:
It is better to prevent than to react. So, we encourage everyone to form and stick to a healthy routine to stay physically and mentally healthy. If you or your loved ones are experiencing depression or other mental health conditions, remember it’s treatable and professional supports are available.