More than 3 million Australians struggle with depression—which means it’s likely you know someone who does, too.
But how do you help someone with depression? And how do you take care of yourself while you’re trying to be a supportive friend or family member?
According to SANE Australia, a mental health resource and advocacy group, carers also need support when they take on the responsibility of helping a loved one who struggles with mental illness.
Taking on a carer role “often happens with little training or support,” and carers can have difficulty acknowledging “their own needs and mental health,” explains SANE Australia’s website, Sane.org.
“When families are accepted as partners in care and do receive training and support, there is strong evidence that this leads to better outcomes for everyone involved,” the site continues.
Read on for specific strategies you can use if someone you love is exhibiting signs of a mental health crisis—without losing sight of your own emotional needs along the way:
1. Know how to spot the symptoms
Depression is a serious mental health disorder traditionally characterised by lack of interest in everyday activities, as well as fatigue, sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness.
In addition to becoming aware of what depression looks like, friends and family should also understand that mental illness comes with stigmas that affect how patients reach out for help or comfort.
“Communication becomes problematic because the person is embarrassed to say how they feel, anticipating judgment,” Dr Raymond DePaulo, Jr, former professor of clinical psychology at Johns Hopkins University, explained to Everyday Health.
2. Understand and empathise
It can be difficult for healthy individuals to understand the severity of depression. It’s not just a series of bad days you can shake off. Patients who struggle with depression have described the disorder as “the inability to construct or envision the future” and a “total loss” of identity.
These internal obstacles make it difficult for them to see the light at the end of the tunnel — or communicate how they’re feeling to the people around them. That’s why it’s so important to extend sympathy for your friend or family member and let them know you plan to listen and help them during their depressive episode.
“A conversation can make a difference in helping someone feel less alone and more supported in recovering from anxiety and depression,” explain the experts at BeyondBlue, a mental health resource site. “Don’t underestimate the importance of just ‘being there’.”
By extending compassion, you’re re-enforcing to your friend or loved one that they are deserving of love and care and that help is possible—ideas that those who struggle with depression often have difficulty remembering or believing. Simply listening and offering support can help someone with depression more than you know.
3. Try talking — but know how to protect your own boundaries
When the moment is right, try talking to your friend or loved one about their depression by letting them know you feel worried. The most important thing to do is to listen to your friend’s experiences without judging their behaviour.
And, if the conversation goes well, you might even encourage them to get the professional help they need.
“If you have a friend with depression, it’s really important that they seek help,” explain the experts at Reachout.com. “Recommending that they go and visit their GP is a good first step. You could offer to go with them if they’re worried or need extra support.”
Feel free to find a way to end the conversation gently if your friend resists the idea of getting help, or does not seem ready to share with you. It’s ok — you can always try to talk to them about it at another time.
Finally, while wanting to help someone with depression is a noble and brave thing to do, it shouldn’t come at the expense of your own mental wellbeing.
Make sure you have someone you can speak to about your own feelings, suggest the experts at Sane.org.
“Don’t ‘bottle up’ feelings if you are sometimes frustrated or need support,” explains the website. “Let the treating health professionals and others know how you feel, and ask for support if you need it.”
For more tips on how to have a conversation with someone struggling with mental illness, check out this guide from BeyondBlue.
4. Helping your friend seek treatment
Mental health disorders like depression are often treated in multiple ways, including cognitive behavioural therapy and anti-depression medication.
Broaching the subject of therapy or medication with a friend or family member can be difficult, but if you suspect your loved one has stopped taking their medication, it’s worth the discomfort.
“Discontinuing antidepressants should never be done by anyone by themselves,” Dr Renee Binder, president of the American Psychiatric Association, explained to Prevention. “It’s always important to work with a psychiatrist or whoever is prescribing the medication.”
“People think, ‘I’m feeling better, and I want to get off these,’ but you may start feeling worse again,” Binder added.
Alternatively, if you know your friend or loved one hasn’t yet sought treatment of any kind, you might provide resources, or help them make the phone call to set up an appointment.
The following mental health advocacy sites have great information about how to contact mental health professionals:
- Lifeline.org.au: Australia’s primary suicide prevention resource, Lifeline also provides helpful guides for seeking treatment.●BeyondBlue: A national resource for anxiety and depression, BeyondBlue provides directories of mental health professionals, so you can find a doctor near you. They also offer 24/7 support via phone.
- Black Dog Institute: A resource for families with members who have a diagnosis of depression or bipolar disorder.
- Headspace: Free online chat service geared toward young Australians seeking help for mental health.
5. How to intervene with suicidal ideation
If your friend has expressed a desire to harm themselves in any way, it’s important to reach out for professional help immediately.
Call a suicide hotline like Lifeline at 13 11 14 or 000, if you or your loved ones are in immediate danger.
In addition to calling for help, stay with your friend or loved one to make sure they remain safe until help arrives. Talk with them about how they’re feeling, and don’t leave them alone.
If your friend or loved one regularly struggles with suicidal thoughts, you may also want to take a training course on suicide prevention. Learn more about LivingWorks intervention training here.
Lastly, trying to help someone with depression or preventing a suicidal episode can be very stressful. Don’t forget to reach out to your friends and family for support and to seek counselling if you need someone to talk to.
For more information on how to receive support as a carer, visit Sane.org.
This piece was first seen on ‘Coach’, 28 May 2018.