Sunday 20 October 2019

What to do when someone you love is living with depression

Mental health accounted for one fifth (20pc) of total income protection claims Photo: PA
Mental health accounted for one fifth (20pc) of total income protection claims Photo: PA
Actress Kristen Bell has spoken about living with depression (Francis Specker/PA)

Brid O'Meara

We all have bad days, days when things don’t go according to plan, or days when we hear sad news. There is a difference between days like this and depression.

If you are supporting someone who is experiencing depression, there are a number of things that are important to know:

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It’s not just ‘having a bad day’

Depression is a mental health condition that affects a person’s thinking, energy, sleeping, feelings and behaviour.

Look out for key symptoms

When an individual experiences five or more of these symptoms, lasting for a period of two weeks or more, it is advisable to speak to a GP or mental health professional:

● Feeling sad, anxious or guilty

● Energy being low, leaving a sense of tiredness and fatigue

● Sleep patterns are disrupted

● Thinking slowing down, with poor concentration

● Interest in hobbies, family and social life reduced

● Value of self is diminished, leading to low self-esteem

● Aches and pains being experienced

● Life is challenging, with loss of interest in living, and possible suicidal thoughts.

Offer to help

If you are concerned that a friend may be experiencing depression, ask them gently, as often it is difficult for them to explain how they are feeling.

Find a suitable, quiet place where you will not be disturbed. You could start the conversation by saying that you are concerned about them and tell them what you have noticed. You could ask them how, or if, you can help.

When a person is experiencing depression, it is very important that they seek professional help. Encourage your friend to go to see their GP or mental health professional.

Listen, don’t judge

One of the most important things you can do for your friend is to listen. Listening in a non-judgemental way and showing empathy allows them to describe how they are feeling.

Bear witness

You don’t have to ‘fix’ your friend. In fact, most people don’t want you to attempt to ‘fix’ them. Most want to be witnessed and their experience acknowledged. It is not helpful to say things like ‘cheer up’ or ‘you’ll be grand’ or ‘I know how you feel’. While there can be similarities, everyone’s experience is individual, and comments like these can come across as dismissive.

Seek out the experts

Mental health professionals are best placed to prescribe the appropriate treatment. This may include lifestyle changes, talking therapy and medication. Encourage your friend to follow their prescribed treatment plan.

Education is key

Educating yourself about depression is very important. Understanding what happens when someone you care about is experiencing depression is paramount to minimise the disruptive effect on your relationship. Educate yourself from reliable sources.


Getting support for yourself is essential. Similar to the flying experience, you must put on your oxygen mask to ensure you can breathe, before you can help someone else.


Considering what you have already done to help your friend can be a useful exercise. Has what you have done worked in the past? For example, in the past, have you ignored the fact that your friend was experiencing depression? Did that make it go away? Did it help your relationship? Did it make you feel better? Did it make them feel better?

Don’t forget about you

You cannot ignore your own mental health. Take time out. Be nice to yourself. Maintain your own social outlets and hobbies. Make sure that you get good sleep, that you eat well, that you get some exercise, and that you maintain a focus on your own life and wellbeing.

The two most important things you need to know are that it is helpful to reach out to your friend and let them know you are there for them, and that you need to get and take support for yourself as well.

If you are worried about depression or bipolar disorder, Aware’s Relatives and Friends programme teaches skills to cope, to improve communication, to increase knowledge. It also provides practical tips on self-care.

You can also call the Aware Support Line on Freephone 1800 80 48 48 (seven days a week, 10am to 10pm), or email

Aware is hosting a national conference on the Future of Depression & Bipolar Disorder for members of the public in University College Dublin on Saturday, October 12. For information on the conference programme and registration, visit

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