Strategies for family and friends

Photo of two friends sitting on a couch (PantherMedia / CandyBox Images)

If a friend or someone in the family has depression, people are usually concerned and want to help, but often don't know how. We have collected some ideas about how you might help a person with depression.

Sadness is usually a normal and natural reaction. It occurs at any age, even in children and teenagers. It is not easy to tell if a sad mood has developed into an illness that might need treatment. Depression is still a taboo in our society, and many people don't like to talk about it. People with depression might be ashamed of their illness, and their friends and family might be too. But depression is an illness like any other.

A person who is depressed can feel very down and sad, and may sometimes feel desperate, unsure of themselves, and anxious. These feelings and negative thoughts usually don't go away on their own, and sometimes they get even worse. Depression often means not enjoying activities that you used to. Or in some cases not wanting to do anything at all and not seeing any way out.

This can be worrying for family and friends, leaving them feeling anxious and not knowing what to say or do. They often would like to help, but just don't know how. There isn't much research on the best ways for family and friends to help.

Here are some ideas and suggestions on how family and friends who are worried might help a person who is depressed:

  • Treat the person with respect
  • Be attentive and listen carefully
  • Use positive body language; doing so can affect the atmosphere and help people feel more comfortable during a conversation
  • Do not simply dismiss someone's feelings of guilt – they are often very real to the person
  • Accept the reality of the person's world
  • If the conversation becomes difficult or the person gets angry, do your best to stay calm, open and honest
  • Encourage and support the person in getting professional help – for example, help make doctors' appointments or go with them to counseling or therapy
  • Encourage the person to carry on with the chosen treatment
  • Take talk of suicide very seriously and find professional help
  • Help them not to make important decisions while they are depressed
  • Support the person by helping with their daily routine: getting exercise, eating regularly and having social contact. You might, for instance, regularly go for a walk together at a specified time
  • Be careful with well-meaning advice
  • Keep an eye on how other family members and friends are coping with the situation
  • Learn more about depression, such as what may cause it, how it might change over time, and what treatment options are available
  • Last but not least: look after yourself and if necessary talk about your own experiences and feelings with other friends, family members or specialists

It is important to know that every person is different and behaves differently, and also copes with things in their own way. So there are no general recommendations that will work for everyone.