How to support someone living with depression

A man and his wife, who is concerned about his wellbeing, looking to support him through his depression

If you have a friend, family member or colleague struggling with depression, we understand that it can be hard to know how to best support them.

While the best thing for someone living with depression to do is to visit a mental health professional, there are many ways you can support them on their journey to accessing that support and undergoing treatment.

With a combination of professional health care treatment, personal coping strategies, and support from their peers, it is entirely possible for someone living with depression to get back to living a fulfilling life.

What is depression?

Depression is a common mental health condition that impacts 1 in 7 Australians throughout their lifetime.

It is a serious mental illness that can have a profound impact on a person's life, sometimes making it difficult to complete even the smallest of tasks and enjoy daily activities.

Clinical depression is more than just feeling sad or down; it is a persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and despair that can last for weeks, months or much longer.

To gain a better understanding of what depression is, visit our recent blog What is depression? An in-depth overview.

Signs and symptoms of depression

The symptoms of depression can vary from person to person, but common symptoms include:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Regular negative thoughts and thoughts of suicide

If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, call 000. If a loved one isn't in immediate danger but requires support, encourage them to call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

You can learn more about how to know if someone has depression here.

A family supporting each other through a group hug

Practical tips for supporting someone with depression

While it can be hard to know the best ways to support someone living with depression, the following tips can be a great place to start:

1. Encourage communication

One of the most important things you can do to support someone living with depression is to encourage open and honest communication.

Let them know that you are there for them and that you are willing to listen without judgement, whenever they need to talk.

Remember that everyone is different and that what works for one person may not work for another.

Ask them what kind of support they need and be willing to adjust your approach.

Perhaps communicating with them in person works best, or maybe a phone call makes them feel more comfortable.

The most important thing to remember is to try to be understanding and patient, as it can be hard and overwhelming for people to open up about their mental health.

The best thing you can do is to provide a safe space for the person to express their feelings without fear of judgement or criticism.

2. Provide emotional support

Simply being there for someone living with depression is incredibly helpful.

It can provide a sense of comfort and security, and can be a critical reminder that they are not alone.

Being there for someone doesn't have to look like talking all the time, it can also mean going for a walk together, having dinner together, or doing activities you both enjoy.

While you're spending time together it's important to avoid trying to 'fix' their problems, as this can be overwhelming and invalidating.

Instead, try and focus on being a listening ear, and a friendly face.

3. Help with daily tasks

Depression can make it difficult for people to complete even the simplest of tasks, such as getting out of bed, doing their groceries, washing up or cooking dinner.

As a family member or carer, you can help by offering practical support with daily tasks like these.

By completing daily tasks together, you can help your loved one experience a sense of purpose and accomplishment, as well as provide a distraction from negative thoughts and feelings.

It can also help to break down large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks with them, which can make each task seem less overwhelming.

Having someone to help with daily tasks can also help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and can provide a sense of connection and support.

Ultimately, helping with daily tasks can be a powerful way to practically show your care and support.

4. Educate yourself

Educating yourself about depression is an important step in understanding what those who live with it are going through.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of depression can help you recognise it in yourself or in a loved one, and even predict what someone may be feeling behind closed doors when they don't feel like talking about it.

Alongside helping you empathise with your loved one, gaining a deeper knowledge of depression is a great way to show how much you care about them and their experiences.

To learn more about what it's like to live with depression, read our blog: Living with depression: Symptoms, coping strategies, employment and supports.

5. Encourage seeking professional help

While the support you can provide your loved one is invaluable, it is important to remember that depression is a serious illness that requires professional treatment.

Encouraging your loved one to seek help from a mental health professional, such as a doctor or mental health professional is critical to them accessing the support they need to manage their depression in a way that works best for them.

If your loved one doesn't feel ready to make an appointment on their own, it's important not to push them.

Instead, you could research mental health resources that they can read in their spare time, remind them of the many mental health helplines that exist, and even offer to help them book an appointment.

If they are still unsure about seeking professional support, offering to attend an appointment with them can help encourage them to take this very critical step, and provide a sense of comfort and security.

At the end of the day, it is important to remind them that seeking professional help is a sign of strength and courage, and that it is an important step towards improving their mental health.

A woman providing support for her friend who is living with depression

Remember to take care of yourself

Taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of your loved one.

Make sure to prioritise your own self-care - if you're run down, you won't be much help to your loved one.

This can include setting clear boundaries for yourself around how much time you spend supporting your loved one, and making time for yourself to reset and recharge.

If you're finding that supporting someone living with depression is also taking a toll on your own mental health or you need more direction, don't hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional yourself.

Supporting someone with depression can be challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding.

By providing practical and emotional support and encouraging them to seek professional help, you can make a positive difference in your loved one's life, and help them along their journey with managing depression.