Depression is a significant contributor to the global burden of disease and affects people in all communities across the world. Today, depression is estimated to affect 350 million people. The World Mental Health Survey conducted in 17 countries found that on average about 1 in 20 people reported having an episode of depression in the previous year. (WHO, 2012).
When someone you know and love is clinically depressed, you want to be there for that person. Still, keep in mind that your friend or loved one has a medical condition, so giving support may mean more than just offering a shoulder to cry on.
“There are many things you can do to make them feel better,” says Jackie Gollan, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, but medical care may be what they really need to recover.
Realize treatment is key
Depression is a medical condition requiring medical care. As a family member or friend, you can listen to the person and give your support, but that might not be enough.
If you keep this in mind, it can prevent you from losing patience or getting frustrated with them because your best efforts don’t “cure” their depression.
Get active in their care
The best thing you can do for someone with depression is support his or her treatment. Tell your friend or loved one that depression is a medical problem and ignoring it will not make it go away.
“If someone breaks their leg, they are taken to a doctor or hospital,” says Gollan. “If someone has depression, they need medical care and psychosocial support.”
Talk about it
Let them know that you and others care about them and are available for support. Offer to drive them to treatment or, if they want to talk to you about how they are feeling, know what to listen for. This can reduce risk of suicide. Listen carefully for signs of hopelessness and pessimism, and don’t be afraid to call a treatment provider for help or even take them to the ER if their safety is in question.”
Stay in contact
Call or visit the person and invite her or him to join you in daily activities. People who are depressed may become isolated because they don’t want to “bother” other people. You may need to work extra hard to support and engage someone who’s depressed. Activities that promote a sense of accomplishment, reward, or pleasure are known to be helpful in improving depression. Choose something that the person finds interesting. Still, keep in mind that they may not feel interested in the activity right away. Routines that promote exercise, nutrition, and a healthy amount of sleep are helpful.
Focus on small goals
A depressed person may ask, “Why bother? Why should I get out of bed today?” You can help answer these questions and offer positive reinforcement. This may help the person regain a sense of reward and small goals of accomplishment. Document and praise small, daily achievements—even something as simple as getting out of bed.
Read all about it
Books about depression can be useful, especially when they are reliable sources of advice or guidance that’s known to help people with depression. Books can often shed light on the types of treatment available. Recommended books like The Feeling Good Handbook Mind Over Mood, and Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time are helpful.
Encourage doctor visits
Encourage the person to visit a physician or psychologist; take medications as prescribed; and participate in cognitive behavioural therapy for depression.
If someone you love has been depressed in the past, pay attention if the person is experiencing some of the riskier life phases such as adolescence or a recent childbirth.
Also, if they are experiencing emotional difficulties due to marital separation, divorce, job loss, a death in the family, or other serious stress, be ready to step in to help.
If you or anyone you know are suffering from depression there are many support networks that are there to assist and educate you. Please call the Beyond Blue support line on 1300 224 636 or you can contact one of our counsellors on 1300 796 640.