Depression is a debilitating mental illness, one that doesn’t receive nearly as much attention as it should, especially here in South Africa. When a friend or loved one suffers from depression, it’s natural to want to help them, even if the prospect is a touch daunting.

Depression is a complex issue, and there’s no simple cure to it as much as we wish there was one. Simply telling someone it’s going to be okay or to ‘try to be happy’ isn’t enough, and is actually counter-intuitive.

If you want to help someone suffering from depression, there are a few ways to go about it. Here are some things you can do to reach out to them.

Take the time to listen to them.

We all just want to be heard, and listening to someone with depression can really help them. Let your loved one know you’re there for them, and let them know you’re concerned. Ask them what’s on their mind, and open up the conversation for them to share with you.

Don’t try to give them any advice as you listen to them, unless they want your advice. Really try to engage with them to show you’re listening, like asking questions for more information rather than assuming you understand. Validate their feelings, and show empathy and interest through your body language. Just avoid being pushy, and always try to have these conversations face to face.

Additionally, be sure to stay in touch. A short message every other day to let them know you’re thinking of them and value them is helpful and appreciated.

Help them get the professional help they need

Whether they don’t know they have depression or they’re not sure who to turn to, it’s important to support them to seek out therapy. It can be daunting to have to look for one and even to open up to them, but therapy is a great step on the road to happiness again. If they seem interested in therapy, offer to help them review potential therapists to find the right one for them, and if they’re open to it you two can come up with a list of things to asked and brought up in the first session.

Encourage them to keep going

On bad days it can be difficult for those with depression to leave the house, or to even get out of bed. It takes away all your energy, and pushes you to isolate yourself from others.`

If they intend to cancel their therapy session for that day or avoid going to something, gently encourage them to stick to it. Especially if the sessions help. Saying something like “You said you felt better after seeing your friends last week, what if today helps you too?”`

The same thing goes for medication. Antidepressants can have some unwelcome side effects, but antidepressants should never be stopped suddenly without the supervision of a health care professional. If your loved one says they want to stop taking their meds, encourage them to talk to their psychiatrist about changing their antidepressants or getting off the medication.

Help them with everyday tasks

Depression is insidious and creeps into every area of our lives. When we can’t motivate ourselves to do anything, daily tasks become overwhelming and tend to pile up. We can’t bring ourselves to go buy groceries or do the dishes, and the more there is to do, the less we want to do it.

So, offer to help them! They’ll appreciate it, especially if it’s done clearly. Offer to take them grocery shopping or grab some things for them, or offer to come over and help them with chores around the home. Putting on music and starting a conversation as you work together can make chores go by faster, and uplifts that little bit more.

Be patient, keep extending loose invitations

It can be frustrating when someone close to you has depression, as they often can’t bring themselves to reach out to friends or go out. Many stop extending invites or stop talking to them, but no one wants to be left alone. Don’t blame yourself or take offence to their silence; keep reaching out to them with little messages of support, and loosely extend invites to spend time together, letting them know that it’s okay to not respond or not join. As long as they know you look forward to seeing and talking to them again when they’re ready.

When it comes to depression, you’ll often feel like you’re carrying the majority of the weight of the relationship. It’s important to take time for yourself and to set boundaries so as not to be overwhelmed with caring for another.

Also, remember that depression isn’t cured overnight. Your loved one may battle with depression throughout their lives. Don’t take one good day as the end of their ordeal, or make a bad day mean it’s hopeless for them. Be there to support them as much as you can, and keep an eye on them. Suicidal thoughts often arise with depression, but you can prevent a tragedy by remaining observant and open to talking to them.

If you have any questions on depression or know a loved one who may be suffering from depression and you’re not sure of the way forward, feel free to message us. At Cherrywood House, we’re always on hand to help wherever needed.