Learn about depression, its symptoms and possible causes, and how you can access treatment and support. Find tips on caring for yourself, and guidance for friends and family.
How can friends and family help?
Watch: How to help someone with depression
Watch our animation to find practical ideas for helping someone who feels depressed. Includes tips for talking about how they're feeling, and what they'd find helpful from you. And ways to help them get professional support.
Support them with getting help
You can't force anyone to get help for depression if they don't want it. But you can reassure them that it's OK to ask for help, and that support is out there.
Helping them with practical things can also make a big difference. For example, looking into what services are available or taking them to appointments. See our pages on helping someone else to seek help for more information.
Be open about depression
Lots of people can find it hard to open up and speak about how they're feeling. Try to be open about depression and difficult emotions.
This will help them know that it's OK to talk about what they're experiencing. Speaking honestly and with no judgement can let them know that you’re ready to listen.
The best things that friends and family can do is simply listen. They often don't need to say anything, just being willing to listen to your problems makes you feel less alone and isolated
Keep in touch
It might be hard for them to have the energy to keep up contact. So it can help if you make the effort to keep in touch.
It can even be just a text message or email to let them know that you're thinking of them. This could make a big difference to how they feel.
Try not to put too much pressure on them to reply. The main thing is that they know you’re there for them.
Talking... not even talking about how I felt. Just talking about stupid things that didn't matter over coffee, without pressure and knowing that I can talk about the tough stuff if I want to.
Don't be critical
You might find it hard to understand why someone can't just 'snap out' of depression. This is especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself.
Try not to blame them or put too much pressure on them to get better straight away. They're probably being very critical and harsh towards themselves already.
Just a simple call or text asking me how I am helps. I don't want sympathy, just to know they are there if I need them.
Find a balance
If someone's struggling, you might want to take care of everything for them. And there may be some practical things you can help with, like housework or cooking. But it can also help to encourage them to do things themselves.
Everyone will need different support. You could ask what they might find helpful from you. And you could help them identify things they can try themselves.
Finding ways of simplifying things they're struggling with can also help. For example, you might help them to set up a regular online grocery shop. Or you could suggest easy meals they could cook in batches and freeze for later.
Keep doing things you’d usually do together
When someone you know is experiencing depression, it might feel like this becomes the focus of your relationship. But depression is only one aspect of a person’s life.
It can help to keep doing other things together. And talk about things that you usually would. For example, if you normally watch TV together, or share a hobby.
Take care of yourself
Looking after someone else can put a strain on your wellbeing. Remember that your mental health is important too. Try not to feel guilty about taking time to look after yourself.
This may feel difficult if you spend a lot of time around someone with depression. For example, if you care for them or you live together. You might feel like you need to be there for them all the time, and put their needs ahead of yours.
But it’s okay to set aside time for yourself. And you’ll probably feel more able to support someone if you take care of your own wellbeing.
If you're caring for someone, our pages on coping as a carer have information that may help. Carers Trust also has a local service finder for carers’ services that you can search to find support in your area.
Sometimes it might be hard to know the right thing to say to someone experiencing depression.
These are some ideas of supportive things to say:
- “I’m sorry you’re feeling like this, and I’m here for you.”
- “You’re important to me.”
- “How are you managing?”
- “What can I do to help you today?” Or, if you can, ask something more specific, such as: “Would you like me to come over and keep you company?”
Try to avoid statements like:
- “Cheer up” or “just think positively.”
- “You don’t seem that sad”, or anything that invalidates what they’re going through.
- “Other people have it far worse than you.”
- “You wouldn’t be depressed if you just did some exercise”, or anything that blames them for what they’re experiencing.
- “You’re being selfish,” or “you should think about how this affects the rest of us.”
Listen carefully, don't judge and most of all, don't say, 'Cheer up.' It's just not that simple. Sometimes solutions are unnecessary, so don't feel you have to provide one.
Sometimes, a person experiencing depression may not want to get help, or might not be able to. This may include rejecting any help that you offer.
It’s understandable if you feel frustrated, distressed and powerless about this. If you can, try to accept that there are always limits to what you can do to support another person.
There are some things you can do:
- Be patient. You won't always know the full story, and there may be reasons why they're finding it difficult to ask for help.
- Offer emotional support and reassurance. Let them know you care about them and you'll be there if they change their mind.
- Let them know how they can seek help when they're ready. For example, you could show them our pages on seeking help for a mental health problem.
- Look after yourself, to help yourself avoid also becoming unwell.
There may be times when your friend or family member needs to seek help more urgently. For example, if they:
- Have harmed themselves and need medical attention
- Are having suicidal feelings, and feel they may act on them
- Are putting themselves or someone else at immediate, serious risk of harm
If they’re not safe by themselves right now
Help them call 999 for an ambulance and stay with them, if you can. Or you could help them get to A&E. They may appreciate it if you can wait with them until they can see a doctor.
If they can keep themselves safe for a little while
You can get quick medical advice by contacting NHS 111 in England, or NHS 111 Wales (in Wales, you can select option 2 for urgent mental health support). Or you could help them make an emergency GP appointment to see a doctor soon.
It may also help to remove things they could use to harm themselves. This is especially if they've mentioned specific things they might use.
This information was published in April 2023. We will revise it in 2026.
References and bibliography available on request.
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