Any prolonged change in someone’s behaviour and mood is a cause for concern, and may indicate that the person is becoming depressed.

If a family member or friend is affected by depression then you are probably experiencing a number of concerns, emotions and questions about the condition. Having the right information can help the individual and provide you and your family with the coping skills in order to deal effectively with the situation.

When a loved one is suffering from depression you can offer help and support in a variety of ways.

Learn about depression, including recognising symptoms

Learning about depression will help you to understand how your family member or friend is feeling, and why they are behaving the way they are. Learning to recognise the symptoms of depression means that you may be able to encourage them to seek help and provide support in the early stages of the episode. This is likely to limit the duration and severity of the depression that they experience and prevent unnecessary suffering.

PSYP has published a 32-page booklet to help family and friends help someone who has depression.  We also offer training courses where you can learn in greater depth how to provide support.  You may also want to post questions and discuss your experiences with other people with similar concerns to you on the PSYP Online Forums.

Make sure they get the help they need

The very nature of depression can interfere with a person’s ability to get help.  Many people avoid asking for support because they fear that others will view them as weak or inadequate for admitting they need help.  Others avoid seeing a doctor because of outdated worries about being forced to take “happy pills” or being carted off to a mental hospital.  However, these days there are many early interventions and talking therapies, and antidepressants should only used for treating severe and enduring depression.  Almost all (80-90%) of people with depression are treated solely in primary care, and never need to see a psychiatrist or any other specialist.

You might need to encourage the person to see their doctor to access treatments and services, and support them to continue with these.

If, however, they are adamant that they will not see a doctor, it is important to get them to talk to somebody, such as a private counsellor, or even by engaging in online forums.

Helping the person who is depressed

You can listen and offer emotional support without giving advice or judging. You can provide them with reassurance that they will get well. If they are ready you could gently encourage them to engage in self help activities – maybe by helping with arrangements or accompanying them.

Looking after yourself

Supporting someone who is experiencing depression can be stressful for the carer. Dealing with all the issues can be emotionally draining and you can feel helpless at times. It is particularly important not to neglect your own mental health during this time. You cannot help your loved one if you are feeling unwell.