Home | Depression
How to Help
Someone with Depression
Here are some general suggestions
about what you can do to help a depressed friend or any
other depressed person.
This is a new page to try to
collect all the suggestions in one place.
Them Identify Feelings and Their Causes
- See also What Not to Do
Chances are good that you know
someone who is depressed. Here are some ways you can help
1. Show them you have noticed.
Many depressed people don't want to
be a burden to anyone else so they might not directly
tell you they are depressed. Also, they might be afraid
or embarrassed to tell you. So what you can do is gently
let them know you have noticed. You might say something
- You seem a bit down.
- I'm a little worried about
2. Ask them how OK they are,
When asked how they are, most
people, depressed or not, will just say, "fine"
or , "ok". But this doesn't tell us very much
in reality. A particularly useful way to find out more is
to ask the question like this:
- How ok are you from 0-10?
- How fine, from 0-10
3. Many websites will recommend
that you send your friend or loved one to a professional.
We feel a bit suspicious of this. We suspect the articles
written on those sites are actually written by
psychologists! We believe that friends can help more than
psychologists simply because friends care more. For
example, when people are asked if their psychologist
would cry if they killed themselves most say,
"no". Also, many people will be reluctant to
see a psychologist, for various reasons.
(Before you start to think that we
are being guilty of the same thing, since we offer
on-line counseling, we want to stress that face to face
is definitely preferable to online help in most ways.)
4. Read the following links to help
you improve your listening skills.
5. Show them
Show them you have noticed and that
you care by emailing something like this to them:
This page is written for
friends and loved ones of people who care about them.
You were probably given this link because someone is
a little worried about you feeling sad or down or
They weren't too sure what to
say, but wanted to let you know they cared.
I am a little worried about you
but I wasn't real sure what to say. I have noticed
that you are feeling kind of sad or down and I would
like to help.
It might be easier for you to
do a little reading than for you to just start
talking to me.
Help Them Identify Feelings and
Here is one example of using our
list of common
negative feelings to help a
teenager. On this day a teen was feeling an urge to cut.
To help her make it through the moment without cutting,
we asked her to look at the list to see which feelings
applied to her. Here are her responses:
ashamed, cut own, embarrassed,
disrespected, labeled, powerless, alone, brushed off,
lonely, misunderstood, unknown, invisible, accused,
misled, disapproved of, over-protected, terrified,
insecure, scared, suspicious
Here is a copy of the dialogue:
Helper: Helper: Wow. That is a
Hurting teen: Yeah
Helper: Can you try to explain
each one a little bit? Or some of them, the main ones
Hurting Teen: Ask me one
Helper: Ok, lets start at the
beginning... ashamed, then cut down.
Hurting teen: Ok...I feel
ashamed by being bisexual and cutting. And I feel cut
down because people say things to make me feel like
I'm not worth anything.
Helper: Like who says things
that hurt you and make you feel worthless?
Hurting Teen: My dad's friends
and this guy I have known a long time.
Helper: Like what do they say
Hurting Teen: They say I am
such a bad person that I can't possibly really be my
Helper: What do they say is so
bad about you?
Hurting Teen: Well, like that I
am a cutter, and a smoker and I am bi
Helper: What do you feel
Hurting Teen: That no one likes
me or loves me.
Here is another example of using
the list of
common negative feelings.
In this case the teen was being seen by social workers
because her father had been sexually harassing her.
Helper says: look at the list
and tell me which u feel at home, and if u want, add
who u feel that way with.
Teen says: ok Stereotyped by my
mum and dad, offended by my parents and brother and
social workers and police
ok how do u feel stereotyped by ur mom
shes like "oh, teenagers ur age....."
i just wanna shout "im not a teenager
but im anna" im not like everyone else.
ur not like everyone else anna
i can see that
lectured to by my family
Imprisoned - parents
Alone, Ignored, Insignificant
these words r really good they describe how i feel
who punishes u?
A good friend or counselor would
then help the person try to figure out the causes of the
feelings and what would help them feel better in each
Here is a list adapted
- Show you care. Maybe
write or send a note saying something like:
"I just want you to know I am thinking of
you and I'd like to help. If there is anything I
can do, please tell me because I would feel
better if I knew I was helping you. I care about
- Try to be
non-judgmental. The most valuable thing you can
give someone is your time and the chance to talk,
if they want to. Realise that you won't get much
back, and you need to keep offering support even
if it is pushed away.
- Remember that people
don't always tell you when they are depressed.
They put on a brave, bright face even when they
are cracking up inside.
- Share her/his fears.
If we are depressed we shut ourselves away, it's
a desperate defense, for which we pay a heavy
price. You can help by taking her/him by the hand
and try to connect them back to the world.
- This is NOT the time
to start giving advice or come up with a plan for
self-improvement. Maybe you can talk about
occasions when you, too, have felt loneliness,
discouragement and confusion.
- Be patient.
Depression has to run its course.
- Reassure her/him
she/he is not alone. You can help by lessening
their isolation. Do it with cups of tea or long
walks or sitting in their room or in a room
nearby and staying silent. Help them feel in
control by asking if it is okay if you stay
there. If they can't talk, try holding their hand
and asking them to squeeze once for yes and twice
for no. Or once for yes and nothing for no.
- There may be times
when she/he is hostile and aggressive ("help
me, help me - stay away!" is the message a
depressed person gives), times when he/she won't
answer the door or phone - your job is to keep
trying, preventing isolation - leaving messages,
send letters, turn up in person.
- Depression may be the
beginning - not the end. Perhaps this
debilitating, energy-draining, all-consuming
black hole serves a purpose. Perhaps we are being
forced to make painful changes to our
- "Depression is a
dark room where we are developing the next
chapter of our lives before living it"
(Quote from poet Gwyneth Lewis).
- "Depression is
often a sign that life needs to be drastically
changed" (Adapted from Philip Toynbee)
- Sometimes we are like
animals who, if we are to finish the journey,
need to retire to a safe place to let our wounds
heal. Recovery is painful. But it may be
necessary for our survival.
- Give your friend
practical help: Someone who is depressed may find
it hard to get dressed, go for a walk (though
exercise produces feel-good endorphins and
reconnects them to the outside world), they may
be eating badly too - or not at all.
- Shop/cook for your
friend if it is okay with him/her.
- Deep lethargy may
mean your friend is as physically incapacitated
as if she had broken every bone in her body.
She/he may need help washing clothes, cleaning,
buying toilet paper. Don't wait to be asked, just
- Build our own support
network. Don't forget to look after yourself too.
It's tough supporting a friend/relative with
depression, you miss who he/she used to be, you
are afraid he/she is contemplating suicide. So
make sure you also have support.
- You can cooperate
with them, you can give love and support
- Books to read:
"When someone you love has depression
"- by Barbara Baker - it's full of practical
information and treatment options, including
drugs and counselling. It also gives practical
advice on how to cope.