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Page medically reviewed by Clare Gridley, Integrative Psychotherapist at Priory Hospital Woking in November 2021.

Helping Someone Who’s Depressed

It can be overwhelming and frustrating when a loved one has depression, especially if you lack the knowledge of how to help them.

You may experience a sense of helplessness and feel as though you don’t know where to turn, or what to do for the best. However, the support of friends and family can play a hugely important role in helping someone recovering from depression, which is why it’s so important that you’re aware of the things you can do to help.

Understanding Depression

Recognising the Symptoms

There are a wide range of symptoms of depression, but the most commonly recognised include:

  • Intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Having low energy or feeling tired all the time
  • Sleep disturbances – sleeping more or less than usual
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

Things to Remember About Depression

Depression isn’t anyone’s fault

It’s important to understand that your loved one can’t help the way they’re feeling and it’s not their fault. Treating your loved one with compassion and understanding is incredibly important.

You can’t flick a switch and cure depression

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for depression and your loved one can’t simply ‘pull themselves together’. It will take small steps for them to recover, and what helps one person will not necessarily help someone else.  

Patience is invaluable

When you’re suffering from depression, the thought of getting out of bed and going through the daily motions can be exhausting. However, this doesn’t mean your loved one lacks the motivation to get better. Allow them to go at their own pace and comfort level, and support them where you can.

Depression is a serious but treatable condition

Your role here isn’t to ‘fix’ your loved one’s depression. In most cases, it takes professional treatment from highly qualified people to overcome depression. The best thing you can do is be as supportive, compassionate and patient as possible.

How to Talk to Someone with Depression

If you have recognised the signs and symptoms of depression in someone close to you, it can be incredibly helpful to have an open and honest conversation about it, so that you can begin to develop an understanding of what they’re going through and reassure them that they’re not alone.

Four things to say to someone who is depressed

When to do it

The best time to raise this subject with your loved one is in a situation and location where you know they feel relaxed and at ease, and somewhere where you won’t be interrupted. Car journeys are a good example, or perhaps when you’re in a quiet local café.

How to start the conversation

It’s important that you start the conversation off in a non-confrontational and open-ended way. Try to focus the questioning on your perspective instead of putting it all on them. You could say things like: “I’ve been a bit worried about you lately” or “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been yourself and wanted to talk to you about it”.

The focus on ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ takes the spotlight away from them and makes it more likely that they’ll feel comfortable enough to open up to you.

Questions to ask

After you have initiated the conversation, it’s a good idea to have some questions ready to ask them. This will help you to gain more information about their mood and emotions and be in a better position to help. Your questions might include:

  • How long have you been feeling this way?
  • How do you feel on a general day-to-day basis?
  • Has something happened to make you feel this way?

What to Say to Someone Who’s Depressed

If your loved one does want to open up to you, it’s important that you respond to them in a compassionate and supportive way. You could use phrases such as:

  • I’m here for you if you need me
  • What can I do to help?
  • This must be incredibly difficult
  • It’s ok to feel like this
  • Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness

 

What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Depressed

Things that it would be unhelpful for you to say to a depressed person include:

  • It’s all in your head
  • I feel down sometimes too
  • Cheer up
  • It could be worse
  • Try to look on the bright side

Other Ways to Support Someone with Depression

Listen to What They Have to Say

People with depression can often feel isolated and find it hard to talk about their depression. Be willing to talk openly with your loved one about their feelings and listen to what they have to say. This will show them that no matter what they might be going through and how negative everything may feel to them, they are loved and valued.

It’s also important to be an active listener and really immerse yourself in the conversation. Use verbal and non-verbal prompts during the conversation, maintain eye contact throughout, and regularly paraphrase what your loved one says back to them to clarify meaning and demonstrate that you have understood them. This will make opening up to you as easy and natural as possible for your loved one, making it more likely that they’ll confide in you in the future if they need to.

Avoid Being Critical or Making Assumptions

If you have never experienced depression, it can be difficult to understand what your loved one is going through, which is why it’s so important to avoid being critical or impatient. They’re probably being very self-critical already, so responding to their needs in a non-judgemental way shows that you recognise what they’re going through is difficult.

Remember, depression is different for everyone. It’s really important that you don’t try to make comparisons or assumptions. The only thing this is likely to do is make them feel invalidated and misunderstood, which could then lead to a further decline in their mood as well as discouraging them from opening up.

Let them Know You’re There for Them

Depression can have a negative impact not just on the emotional elements of a person’s life, but also on the more practical side. They may struggle to keep on top of daily chores and responsibilities due to a lack of energy or general interest in day-to-day life.

It can be really helpful to offer practical support to your loved one, whenever they need it. Ask them about the ways in which you can help them. It could be doing their weekly shop, helping with laundry or cleaning, or even cooking a few healthy meals.

Also, little gestures to let your loved one know that you’re thinking of them can go a long way. Buy them their favourite magazine, surprise them with flowers, pick up the phone to tell them you love them, or just sit with them in silence – it can all really help.

Turning My Life Around: Patrick's Story

"My hopes for the future are that I'll be able to handle myself. And to gain a better understanding of who I am, where I am and where I'm going.

 

Discover Patrick's Recovery Story

Support Them to Seek Help for Depression

All types of depression are treatable, whether your loved one is struggling with clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder or any other type of depression, and this is a key message to try and reinforce to your loved one. Connecting with a mental health professional means that your loved one’s condition can be evaluated and some proactive next steps put in place – but only if they feel ready.

If they’re nervous about speaking to a professional, offer to go with them to any initial appointments and help them to make a list of their symptoms to talk through.

Supporting Someone through Depression Treatment

Your loved has taken an incredibly brave step by asking for help for their depression. From here, the best thing you can do is be as supportive as possible throughout the treatment process.

Note that if, at any point, you think your loved is at risk of suicide, take immediate action. Call a national helpline, like Samaritans, book an urgent appointment with their GP, or head straight to your nearest A&E department.

  • Continue to help out in any way you can. From housework to just being a sounding board, it’s important that you continue trying to be as helpful as possible
  • Suggest activities. There are lots of ways people can cope with depression. One of these getting themselves ‘out there’, which can be achieved by things like exercise or a taking up a new hobby. You could suggest that your loved one starts looking into activities that they enjoy, that could potentially be a distraction for them. However, if they don’t feel up to it at that time, then don’t put any more pressure on them
  • Be realistic. Even during treatment, there might be bumps along your loved one’s road to recovery. If they do seem to be having small setbacks, remain patient and understanding, and don’t let frustration set in

When Should I Seek Professional Help?

If the symptoms of depression your loved one is experiencing are having a damaging effect on their ability to live a normal life, it may be time to seek professional help. Encourage them to speak to their GP, who can offer you professional advice on arresting symptoms.

With the blessing of your loved one, you might also seek depression treatment here at Priory, where we can work with your loved one to develop a recovery programme that fits their needs and circumstances. We offer intensive inpatient stays, weekly therapy sessions that fit in with the life and work commitments of our patients, and online therapy that allows you to recover from the comfort of your own home.

You don’t have to struggle with depression; expert, established treatment is available. To find out how Priory can help your loved one to overcome your depression and return to a positive way of life, call our dedicated team today on 0800 840 3219 or make an enquiry.

Get the Best Mental Health Support

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or make an enquiry. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here.

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