If you want to be there for someone who’s dealing with depression, you’re already being a great friend. It can be hard to know exactly how to help and what to say to someone who is struggling. Remember that each person is different, and while these tips are a guide, it’s important to talk with your friend about what they feel they need.
1. Learn about depression
Not totally sure what depression is or what it means for your friend? A really great first step in helping your friend is to find out more about depression – this will help you to better understand what they’re going through.
How do you know if your friend has depression?
Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference between the regular ups and downs of life, and what is described as depression. Someone experiencing depression might feel ashamed, and worried about how their friends might react if they talk about it.
Not everyone experiences depression in the same way, and symptoms can vary; however, there are changes in the way a person with depression acts that you can look out for. If your friend is experiencing depression, they might:
- seem down or tearful a lot of the time, or cranky more often
- stay up really late or sleep in a lot, or have problems with sleep
- miss a lot of school, work or their regular activities
- miss hangouts or often cancel at the last minute
- eat more or less than usual
- drink alcohol or take drugs more than usual
- talk about feeling empty, tired or worthless
- seem more pessimistic and hopeless, and like they have less energy in general.
Learn more about what depression is and to recognise the signs and symptoms.
2. Be there to listen
If your friend feels like talking, ask them how they’re going. You could start the conversation by asking questions such as: ‘It seems like things have been hard for you lately. What’s on your mind?’ and: ‘What can I do to help?’
When you want to bring up a sensitive issue with a friend, try to choose a time and place when you’re both comfortable, relaxed and there’s some privacy. Don’t push them if they don’t want to talk, and be there for them if they become upset. You might not have an answer or a solution, but just being there to listen can be super helpful.
It might be difficult for your friend to accept your help – continue to check in with them and let them know that you care about them, and that you’re there for them if they need you.
3. Take their feelings seriously
If someone is living with depression, it isn’t possible for them just to ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’ or ‘forget about it’.
If you’re not sure what to do, it might help to offer them some options and let them choose what suits them best. For example, you could offer to listen and let them express their thoughts, or just to hang out, without serious conversation.
Try to be caring, compassionate and curious, and let them know that they matter to you and you are taking them seriously.
4. Help them to find support
Your friend might not be aware of what professional support options are available, or they may be unsure of how to get support. Even if they know about support options, it can be daunting to see a health professional.
You can offer support by encouraging your friend to speak to a health professional or an adult they trust. You could offer to join them for the conversation if they want, or even ask if they’d like you to book the appointment if it’s with a professional. A GP can organise a mental health care plan for them if needed. This means that your friend will get a referral to a psychologist or other professional. They’ll also get Medicare-subsidised sessions – getting help doesn’t have to mean they have to fork out hundreds of dollars.
Not everyone is ready to see somebody face-to-face. You could recommend hotlines or online chat-based helplines. The ReachOut NextStep tool can also provide tailored support options so they can make their own plan.
If they’re not able to seek help on their own, ask for their permission to talk to an adult they trust on their behalf. If they refuse, and you’re still really concerned, consider talking to an adult you trust, such as a teacher, parent or school counsellor.
5. Continue supporting them and respond to emergencies
On a bad day, your friend might not want to leave their room. If they say something like ‘I’m going to cancel my appointment today’, encourage them to follow through with the appointment.
Whether or not your friend has decided to get professional help, it’s important that they know they can get support from you, or other friends and family.
If you think your friend may be in danger or at risk of hurting themselves or someone else, seek help from a trusted adult or emergency mental health service immediately. Call 000 to reach emergency services and also tell someone you trust.
6. Take care of yourself
It can be pretty scary and intense to see someone you care about experiencing depression. You can be there for your friend, but it’s equally important to do things that keep you well. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be in a better place mentally and physically, and this allows you to better support the people around you.
Remember to do the following to make sure your own wellbeing is looked after:
- Monitor your mood. You might be really worried about a friend with depression, but it's important that you also monitor your own mood and stress levels. This could include rating your mood out of ten each day, to track how you're doing.
- Don't give up the things you enjoy. Always make sure you've got the time to do your favourite things.
- Make time to relax. Relaxation is great for helping you to unwind and deal with stress.
- Set boundaries. You aren’t going to be able to be there for your friend all of the time. Set some limits around what you’re willing, and not willing, to do. For example, you might decide not to take any phone calls in the middle of the night, or not to miss social events just because your friend isn’t up to going.
- Ask for support. It’s important that you’re getting your own emotional support. Talk to people you trust about how you’re feeling.