Depression

Updated 23 February 2017

How to support someone with depression

One in five South Africans suffers from a mental illness. Here are some tips on how to help support someone with depression.

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Supporting someone who suffers from depression can be incredibly difficult, often because it is so difficult to gauge their needs. Fortunately there are ways to help – for both those who want to support a loved one who has depression or for someone who has been diagnosed with depression.

1. Don’t talk, listen 

According to Health24’s CyberShrink, sometimes the best thing you can do for someone who has been diagnosed with depression is to listen. “Don’t avoid the person because you can’t think of something clever to say – someone who can listen is valuable. Sometimes just being there with them is valuable, so don’t put pressure on them to have something to say either. Make it clear that you want them to feel free to talk about anything that’s on their mind – but only when they feel able to.”

2. Never say 'snap out of it' or 'cheer up'

Don’t try to force someone who is depressed to cheer up. It’s not as simple as that – depression is a chemical imbalance. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to raise their blood sugar by thinking about it, would you? The same goes for depression; people who have it are dealing with an imbalance of chemicals and medication helps to correct this. 

3. Be their support structure

SADAG suggests that you help people who are depressed to find out more about their illness and support them with finding treatment. There are so many different forms of mental illness (think depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, PTSD) that it’s important to find out what they are actually suffering from. Suggest going with them to the doctor, counsellor or clinic. If they are open to this, you can help them remember some of the questions they want to ask, or help them to remember what the doctor said. 

Be as supportive as you can – if they don’t feel like getting out of bed, offer to sit with them so they aren’t alone. SADAG says you should remind someone with depression that asking for help is a sign of strength. Remind them their illness can be treated and that they will get better in time. 

4. Suicide watch 

Always take any talk of suicide seriously. Whatever the intentions behind any threat of suicide, it's a dangerous state of mind for someone to be in. Do not disregard it as mere attention seeking.

5. Explaining depression

CyberShrink says you should never feel you have to explain how you are feeling to someone else who is well. “People with ingrown toenails or hay fever don’t usually feel the need to explain this to others or to convince people they’re feeling unwell. If, however, they’re curious and really want to know what you're feeling like, you can just tell them.”

 6. Dealing with depression

“Always seek expert help and advice – don’t suffer for long periods without relief. Remember, you’re much more than ‘depression’,” says CyberShrink. “It is a part of who you are, but it isn’t who you are and what you are.”

Find what aspects of you still work and don't give up those activities. “Don’t settle into puddles of self-pity or into inactivity, so that all you do is be depressed and think only about that. Distract yourself when you can, and when you find islands of fairly normal function, use them, protect them and grow them.” 

Read more:

SEE: What does depression feel like?

When should you see a psychologist?

Many depressed adults not getting treatment

 

Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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