How to help someone with depression

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Adenekan Oyefeso, Psychologist and Clinical Lead for Mental Health at Livi
If you’re worried about a friend or relative’s mental health, Dr Adenekan Oyefeso, a psychologist at Livi, has advice on how to help someone with depression or low mood

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It’s not easy to know someone you care about isn’t feeling like their usual self. Being close to someone who’s depressed can have an impact on your relationship, especially if you’re living with someone who has depression. It’s normal to feel confused, overwhelmed or unsure about what you can do to help.

‘Although it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is depressed, supporting them can play a really important role in helping them feel better and keeping your relationship strong,’ says Dr Oyefeso.

What can cause someone to feel depressed?

Depression can affect anyone and the causes vary between different people. Some people become depressed without any clear reason, and for some it might be down to certain factors or life events.

  • A person might experience depression because:
  • They had a difficult childhood, for example neglect or an unstable family situation
  • They’ve lost someone close to them
  • Their relationship has ended
  • They’ve lost a job or are going through a period of unemployment
  • They experience bullying or abuse including racism and homophobia
  • They use recreational drugs, alcohol or medication that affects their mood
  • They have other mental health struggles like anxiety or low self-esteem
  • They have a physical health problem like chronic pain, a disability or hormonal issues

Understanding what could have caused someone’s depression can be key to giving them the support they need.

What are the signs a friend or loved one is depressed?

‘Until your friend opens up, you may not know exactly how they feel. But there are certain behaviours you can look out for to help know if they have depression,’ says Dr Oyefeso.

Signs to look out for include:

  • Avoiding activities and social events
  • Getting less pleasure out of things they’d usually enjoy
  • A reduced sex drive
  • A lack of confidence
  • Constant tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating or keeping up with conversation
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Sudden weight gain or weight loss from a reduced appetite
  • Smoking and drinking more, or taking recreational drugs
  • Displaying signs of self-harm, like marks on their arms

9 tips to help someone with depression

1. Show and remind them you care

‘The first important step you can take is to let your friend or loved one know you’re there, and want to help as much as you can,’ says Dr Oyesefo. ‘Just being present and available to talk can make a big difference. Some people want face-to-face interaction, while others prefer a phone conversation.’

2. Meet for regular walks

‘Getting enough exercise and fresh air is an integral part of managing depression and can help improve mood, increase energy levels, and promote better sleep,’ Dr Oyefoso explains.

If someone you know is dealing with depression, encourage them to get regular exercise by joining them – this could be an opportunity for them to talk about how they’re feeling too.

3. Take it in turns to cook meals

What we eat can have a significant impact on our mood. While we know eating healthily is vital for our physical health, research proves that it can also help manage depression. You could try cooking healthy meals together or take it in turns to cook for each other to help them maintain a balanced diet.

4. Try something new together

‘Something that can really help people recover from depression is finding meaning and purpose in life,’ says Dr Oyesefo. ‘You can start them on this journey by helping them find a hobby or activity that brings them joy, or helping them volunteer for a cause they feel passionate about.’

5. Help keep them stress-free

When someone is feeling depressed and lacking energy, it can be hard for them to keep on top of their everyday tasks. Help them stay in control by picking up some shopping for them, offering to do one of their household chores or asking them what they’d appreciate from you to take some weight off their shoulders.

6. Talk about getting professional help

‘Depression is a real condition that often needs treatment from a qualified mental health professional. This can involve talking therapy, medication or a combination of both,’ says Dr Oyefeso.

If a person with depression doesn’t want to get in touch with a professional, reassure them that it’s okay to ask for help when they feel ready.

7. Help them build a network

‘One of the best things you can do for someone with depression is to help them develop a support system,’ advises Dr Oyesefo. ‘This might involve connecting them with friends or family members who can offer emotional support, or helping them find a support group of other people with depression.’

8. Find specific support groups

‘There are also support groups available for substance abuse, which is a common problem among people with depression. Alcohol and drugs can make depression worse and can also lead to other issues. If this is the case for someone you know, find a local support group they can join.’

9. Look after yourself too

Taking care of someone close to you might put a strain on your own wellbeing, but remember that your mental health is important too. Make time for your own enjoyment and relaxation, and don’t be afraid to ask your own friends or relatives for help. Take a look at our mental health hub if you need more support.

What to say to someone with depression

Positive reinforcement is often key to helping someone manage their depression. Here are some examples of ways you can offer reassurance.

  1. “Everything is going to be okay”

This helps them take small steps to improve their situation.

  1. “Your feelings are valid”

You can acknowledge that depression is a real but treatable illness.

  1. “It’s not your fault”

Depression is not self-inflicted or something that can be quickly fixed.

  1. “You’re a good person”

Minimise their guilt about being too unwell to work or socialise.

  1. “You’re not a burden”

It’s important they feel comfortable about opening up or asking for help.

What further help is available for someone with depression?

Talking therapy has been proven to help with mild to moderate feelings of depression – a therapist can help someone understand their emotions and navigate through difficult life events,’ explains Dr Oyefeso.

Antidepressant medication is sometimes recommended. A GP can prescribe medication if it’s necessary, and introduce your friend or relative to the right mental health service for them.

If you think someone is in danger or they're expressing suicidal thoughts, call 999 or go to A&E straight away.

Call 111 if it’s not an emergency but someone might need urgent medical help for their mental health.

This article has been medically approved by Dr Adenekan Oyefeso, Psychologist at Livi.

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