Recently I’ve been contacted by a number of individuals questioning how they can support a loved one, or someone close to them who has depression.
I guess my ability to answer this particular query is impacted by my own experience of depression and anxiety – and my first thoughts are that I don’t want to provide any inaccurate or damaging advice. What I might find useful from others supporting me may be entirely different to someone else who has depression – or any other mental illness. However, there are a number of online resources that provide fantastic information on supporting someone with depression, such as Mind’s guide on how friends and family can help – Mind is a mental health organisation based in the UK which provides advice and support, as well as continuously campaigning to raise awareness, improve services and promote understanding for better mental health.
Depression is an illness that – in my experience – can cloud an individuals perception on reality, making it more difficult to reach out and ask for help. As someone who has depression I found it incredibly hard – if not harder – to open up to those closest to me – I was struggling for a long time until I finally told my parents – who, I’m fairly sure knew anyway (they are magical, wonderful, genius humans). For me the best thing my family could do, and did do, and still continue to do… is to allow me to do things at my own pace. For me one of the most important things is knowing that my family care for me and will be there if I reach out and need to ask for help – even though I’m often quite stubborn – “I don’t need anything” seems to be my default response when someone offers me help – which I know can be incredibly frustrating to those closest to me, especially my family as I know that they’d do anything to help me – but what I hope they realise is how much they are in fact helping me by allowing me to deal with things in my own way.
However, as I said earlier – what works for me may be completely different to what works for the person you are supporting. There are multiple fantastic support and resources online that provide information on supporting someone with a mental illness.
I’ve fashioned together some top tips on supporting a loved one with a mental illness, drawing upon my own experience:
- Simply asking someone how they’re doing can be really beneficial – it’s useful when I’m struggling to be reminded that people genuinely do care
- Listen – listening is so important, if I find myself opening up to someone when I think they’re not listening – or don’t want to listen – I instantly switch off, in order to protect myself – also showing that you understand is really important – I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve not spoke to someone because I’ve thought they won’t understand, or they’ll get the wrong impression. I’m not asking you to fix me, I just need to have a space to talk
- Don’t tell me what I need to do in order to ‘feel better’ – I’ve had experiences in the past where loved ones have told me to not think about things, or that I need to do this or that in order to feel better – it’s horribly hurtful for me – I over-think things anyway, and in most cases I’ve actually imagined every possible scenario of trying to make a change, or to make myself better before I’ve even started talking. You may have the best intentions, but remember that mental illness isn’t something which can be ‘switched off’ by a simple action or comment – I find it easier when people help me figure out ways to make things a little easier, rather than telling me how I can ‘fix’ myself.
- Offer information on support and resources – if you’re worried that you don’t want to come across as ‘pushing’ someone into getting help then you could simply mention that there are support options and resources available in which the person you are talking to may be able to find further information on what they may be going through. Mind say this about guiding someone:
“Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is to encourage your friend or relative to seek appropriate treatment. You can reassure them that it is possible to do something to improve their situation, but you need to do so in a caring and sympathetic way.”
And finally… look after yourself. I learnt this the hard way – although I have a mental illness myself I still find it difficult at times when someone opens up to me, however I’ve learnt that with self-care and a good cup of tea I can move forward and continuing support myself and others in the best possible way.
Here are some useful online resources for supporting someone with a mental illness:
(Click on the hyperlinks)
- Mind: How can friends and family help?
- Rethink Mental Illness: Getting help in a crisis
- Rethink Mental Illness: Worried about someone?
- Samaritans: How can I help my child?
- Samaritans: How to start a difficult conversation
- Samaritans: If you’re worried about someone else
- Student Minds: Look after your mate
- Time to Change: Helping a friend with mental health problems like depression
Please also see the useful contacts provided by Mind by clicking here.