If you have someone in your life who is living with depression, it can sometimes be difficult to know the best way to support them. Helping someone with depression can look different for everyone, and it can depend on what your relationship is – whether they’re your parent, sibling, a friend, or someone you’re in a relationship with.
Here’s how you can help people you love when they’re facing mental health issues, plus some tips on how to take care of yourself, too.
How do I help someone with depression?
There are many different strategies that can help you to support someone in your life who is living with depression. Here are some practical things you can try.
Learn about their experiences
One of the best ways to support someone in your life who is struggling with depression is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. This way, when they’re comfortable enough to speak to you about it, you’ll feel confident in providing them with information and options for further support.
What is depression?
‘Depression’, which is often diagnosed as 'major depressive disorder' or ‘clinical depression’, refers to significant feelings of sadness or a low mood that lasts longer than two weeks and gets in the way of your everyday life. Depression is a condition that can only be diagnosed by a health professional, and it is very different from just ‘feeling sad’.
You can read more about what depression is, the different types of depression and how it is diagnosed, in our guide to depression.
Management of mental health conditions
While it can depend on the person’s particular diagnosis or the specific issues they’re experiencing, the most common methods for management of depression are:
- psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy
- medication (usually antidepressants)
- lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, eating well, implementing sleeping routines and using self-help strategies
- finding other sources of support, such as trusted friends and family, and online forums (such as the ReachOut Online Community).
Listen to them and be there for them
Supporting a friend with depression can be as simple as being there for them, listening to them and comforting them.
When someone is experiencing a mental health issue or crisis, it can often be difficult for them to reach out and ask for help – so make sure to let the person know that you’re there for them, whether it’s for a chat or just to hang out. If you’re not sure what to say, remember that simple, open-ended questions are usually the best starting point.
You could start the conversation by asking questions like:
- ‘It seems like things have been tough for you lately. What’s on your mind?’
- ‘How have you been doing lately?’
- ‘Is there anything you’d like to talk about?’
- ‘I’d like to learn more about what you’re experiencing – could you tell me more?’
When they do open up to you about how they’re feeling, make sure to practise active listening, take what they say seriously, and be comforting and empathetic about what they’re experiencing.
Help them with tasks and problem solving
When you are supporting someone with depression, it can often feel like there’s nothing you can do to truly help. While it may be true that you can’t ‘fix’ someone’s mental health for them, you can certainly help them to manage some of their day-to-day experiences.
General problem solving and getting everyday tasks done can sometimes be difficult or overwhelming for someone who is struggling to manage their depression. Assisting them with getting the basics done can often be really beneficial to their mental health, and help them get back on top of things.
Some of the tasks you could possibly help out with include:
- providing them with information about professional help
- assisting them with making appointments to see a GP or a mental health professional
- helping out with cleaning and housework
- making them a healthy meal or snacks
- helping them to organise their priorities with schoolwork or work
- going with them to a school counsellor or teacher to get some support.
However, make sure that you speak to the person before doing any of these tasks for them, as not everyone needs this kind of support.
How to help different people with depression
Helping a loved one with depression can look different depending on what your relationship is with them. Here’s how we can support everyone we love when they’re facing mental health issues.
Supporting a friend
Everyone’s experience with depression is different, but it can be helpful to hear others’ stories to learn more about how we can support our friends with depression.
Tara’s experience with a friend helping her while she was experiencing a difficult time with depression shows that one of the key ways to help is by making sure your friend knows you’re there whenever they need to talk. Maddy’s experience of looking after a friend with depression is an example of making sure you are also practising your own self-care while supporting someone else.
Supporting a family member
Supporting a member of your family who lives with depression can be a difficult experience, particularly if you are acting as a carer.
There’s lots of young people in this very same boat, so you can connect with them or read some stories about caring for a family member on the Young Carers NSW forums (even if you’re not from New South Wales), or you can find more on the ReachOut Online Community. ReachOut also has a list of resources for young carers to help with accessing support services.
You can check out this guide to caring for a parent with mental illness, or you can read this personal story about a young person supporting their sibling while they experience mental and physical illness.
Supporting a romantic partner
Supporting someone that you’re in a relationship with who lives with depression can sometimes be tough.
As well as the tips at the beginning of this page, you could also help them to contact support services and find helpful online resources, such as our collection of resources about depression, or the educational resources over at headspace.
If you’d like to hear about other people’s experiences with supporting their partner with depression, there are plenty of stories in ReachOut’s Online Community. You can also read Sara’s personal story about helping her boyfriend manage his depression.
Remember to care for yourself, too
Looking after yourself is an extremely important part of caring for someone else. It will help you to feel happier and healthier, which means you’ll be better equipped both mentally and physically to provide care for someone else. It also means you will still have mental capacity, time and energy for yourself.
Check out this guide to looking after yourself when caring for someone else for more info and tips.
How to get more support
If you need more support, it’s a good idea to talk to your GP about the best ways to support your own mental health.
There are a variety of support lines if you need to talk to someone now, such as Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), beyondblue (1300 22 4636 or chat online) and Lifeline (13 11 14 or chat online) If you need resources or support about being a young carer, you can find support lines and resources in our checklist here.