Depression can develop slowly. Symptoms can start to appear over the course of weeks, months, or sometimes, even longer. And often, it’s not the person experiencing the depression that realises or acknowledges that there’s something wrong. It isn’t uncommon for it to be the partner or family member of the person experiencing depression to notice changes in behaviour and that perhaps help is needed.

If somebody you care for is talking about suicide, always take them seriously. While you don’t have to be able to solve all of their problems, knowing that somebody is there to listen is often enough to help, even just a little.

Frank discussions help. Often, those experiencing depression want to talk but don’t want to burden others and opening up feels like they are. By offering to listen, you are allowing the person experiencing depression to offload and talk about how they really feel.

Ways you can help somebody with depression

It’s not your responsibility or even within your power to solve somebody else’s problems. You are not responsible for someone else’s happiness, or lack therefore. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot help someone with depression.

Firstly, it’s important to understand what depression is and that it cannot be fought through with will power alone. Speak to them and see if there’s anything you can do to help—for example, help with household chores or cooking—however, don’t try to do everything for them. Instead, help where you can but encourage them to complete other day-to-day tasks. Depression can be very isolating and can quickly become a vicious cycle.

Ways you can help:

  • Let the person experiencing depression know that you’re there and are available to talk and/or listen. But be sincere. If you offer to listen, ensure that you make the time to actually listen, preferably in person.
  • Accept them as they are. Do not judge them based on how they feel or what they have done or are thinking of doing.
  • Gently encourage them to look after themselves, including things like staying physically active, eating well, and doing things that they enjoy.
  • Be sure to stay in touch. Even if they do not accept your offer to talk or listen, be sure to reach out to them once in a while. It could be a text message, contact over social media, a quick phone call, or even arranging to meet for a coffee. The important thing is that they’re not cut off. People with depression tend to isolate themselves so stay in touch, even if you only ever talk about silly things.
  • Be patient. Don’t get frustrated that the person experiencing depression “isn’t over it yet”. The worst thing you can do is expect them to just snap out of it. So be understanding and accepting, realise that every person heals differently and at different speeds.
  • Gather information on local resources where they could go for help. Whether it’s local therapy sessions or depression support groups in the area. Offer what information you can and ensure that they know help is there if and when they need it.
  • Take care of yourself. Helping somebody through depression can take a toll on your own emotional and mental wellbeing. Ensure that you also have somebody to talk to. Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish, it’s a necessity.

When talking to somebody about their depression, it can be hard to know how to encourage them to open up. Frank discussions are useful and if the person with depression can truly vocalise their feelings, it will act as a huge relief to them. Advice from the Samaritans suggests that when talking, try to keep to open-ended questions, rather than questions that only require one-word answers.

Some ideas include using when, where, what and how?

  • When did you realise … ?
  • Where did the situation happen?
  • What else happened?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Why should be avoided. Instead of asking why—which can leave somebody feeling defensive—try asking What made you choose that? Or What were you thinking at the time? These are much more effective.

Be sure to check that they know where to get help. You could try asking who else they’ve spoken to about how they feel and ask them if they’ve considered seeking help. Offering to go with them if they seem unsure about getting help can also be incredibly helpful.

Things you can say to help

Sometimes it can be difficult opening up the discussion with someone who has depression; feeling like you don’t know what to say or worrying that you may say something that will upset them. Ultimately, showing that you care and that you’re there is the most important thing you can do. If you do say something that upsets them, don’t panic. Show that you are listening and that they can fully open up to you.

See the ideas below of things you could and shouldn’t say.

Things you can say to help Things you should AVOID saying
You are not alone. I am here for you. It’s all in your head
You may not feel like it now, but how you feel will change. We all go through tough and/or low times/times like this
I may not exactly understand how you feel, but I care about you and want to help. Try to look on the bright side
When you want to give up, hold on just a little longer. A minute, an hour, a day, whatever you can manage. You have so much to live for, why would you want to die?
You are important to me. Your life is important to me. I cannot do anything about your situation
Tell me what I can do right now to help you. You just need to snap out of it
What’s wrong with you?
Shouldn’t you be better by now?

Source: The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

If you feel like a loved one is in immediate danger, call 999 or take them to A&E.

Where to get help

For year-round support, you can contact charities such as:
Maidstone & Mid Kent Mind (Mind)
Maidstone & Weald Samaritans (Samaritans)
Papyrus (suicide prevention for under 35s)
Childline (suicide prevention and mental health support for under 19s)

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