Depression – How can I be Supportive?
- Treat the person with respect and dignity
Each person’s situation and needs are unique. It is important to respect the person’s autonomy while considering the extent to which they are able to make decisions for themselves, and whether they are at risk of harming themselves or others. Equally, you should respect the person’s privacy and confidentiality unless you are concerned that the person is at risk of harming themselves or others.
- Do not blame the person for their illness
Depression is a medical illness and the person cannot help being affected by depression. It is important to remind the person that they have an illness and that they are not to blame for feeling “down.”
- Have realistic expectations for the person
You should accept the person as they are and have realistic expectations for them. You should let them know that they are not weak or a failure because they have depression, and that you don’t think less of them as a person. Everyday activities like cleaning the house, paying bills, or feeding the dog may seem overwhelming to the person. You should acknowledge that the person is not “faking”, “lazy”, “weak” or “selfish.” Ask the person if they would like any practical assistance with tasks but be careful not to take over or encourage dependency.
- Offer consistent emotional support and understanding
It is more important for you to be genuinely caring than for you to say all the “right things”. The person genuinely needs additional love and understanding to help them through their illness so you should be empathetic, compassionate and patient. People with depression are often overwhelmed by irrational fears; you need to be gently understanding of someone in this state. It is important to be patient, persistent and encouraging when supporting someone with depression.
You should also offer personal kindness and attention, even if it is not reciprocated. Let the person know that they will not be abandoned. You should be consistent and predictable in your interactions with the person.
- Encourage the person to talk to you
Don’t be afraid to encourage the person to talk about their feelings, symptoms and what is going on in their mind. Let the person know that you are available to talk when they are ready; do not put pressure on the person to talk right away.
- Be a good listener
You can help someone with depression by listening to them without expressing judgment. Be an active listener; reflect back what the person has said to you before responding with your own thoughts. It is important to listen carefully to the person even if what they tell you is obviously not true or is misguided. Although the person may not be communicating well and maybe speaking slower and less clearly than usual, you must be patient and must not interrupt. If the person is repetitive try not to get impatient, but rather keep trying to be as supportive as possible.
- Give the person hope for recovery
You need to encourage the person that, with time and treatment, they will feel better. Offer emotional support and hope of a more positive future in whatever form the person will accept.