How to respond to someone with depression

by rodney on March 2, 2014

depressionLife is tough for people living with depression.  However, it is just as tough for the family and friends who are trying to support those living with depression. Unless you have experienced depression yourself, it is nearly impossible to know what it’s like.

As a result, many of us don’t know how to respond when someone confides that they are living with depression. Reactions vary from fear to dismissal. This then breeds stigma and stigma is what is keeping depression in the shadows.

While reactions may not be helpful, I want to make one thing clear; the majority of people react this way because they believe that this is the right way to help. The intention is a good one.

So, how can we ensure that our actions are in line with our intentions? Here are 4 helpful things you can do when responding to someone with depression.


Quite often, we have an idea that someone is living with depression. They start acting different, they may seem low or flat in effect or lose interest in people or things that they used to enjoy. This, usually, gives us a gut feeling that something is not right; however, many of us choose to ignore or not confront people. We need to ask if something is wrong.  A sentence you can use is I’ve noticed some changes lately and I’m concerned. I’m wondering are you depressed?” This will then invite the person to open and talk to you about what they’re going through.

While we’re on the subject of asking, ask if they are thinking about suicide. Around 60% of suicides are related to depression. If someone is living with depression, they are at high risk. Asking someone about suicide will not encourage them to do it, it will encourage them to talk about it.


Now that you’ve asked and someone is talking to you about their depression, you need to listen. This doesn’t mean waiting for your turn to talk or to think of how to solve their problem while they are talking; it means embracing what they say and taking particular attention on how they feel.

You don’t have to be able to understand what they’re going through to listen. You do need to give them a platform to talk about and vent what they are feeling.


Not that you’ve listened and allowed your family member/friend speak, you may be tempted to try to help solve their problem by fixing their depression.  This is done with those good intentions I mentioned earlier, after all you love them and want to see them happy again. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that. You can’t fix their depression.

What you can do is guide them to the people and resources out there that can help them manage, and there are plenty. There are Doctors, Counsellors, Psychologists and organisations such as Lifeline, Beyond Blue and the Blackdog institute, and this is just a starting point.  The main reason people don’t seek help is that they don’t know how much help is out there, by helping them find it; you are making a big difference in their lives.


Now that they have found some great help and resources, the final thing you can do is to support them on their journey to recovery. You see, no one can do this alone, and while they are getting help, they still need your support to stay on track.

You can support them by checking in regularly, see how they are doing, listening to what they have to say, helping them through tough times and celebrating with them when things are good.

Whatever happens, if someone you know is depressed there are 3 things you should never do, never minimise what they’re going through, never make them feel bad for going through it and never turn your back on them.

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