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4 Min Read

How to help someone with depression

6 July 2022

If you have a colleague who is depressed – or who you think might be depressed – it’s natural to want to help them. You’ll be keen to show them you understand and care about what they’re going through and to support them in feeling better. It’s not always easy to know how best to do this though. Here are some expert tips from ieso clinicians.

How to recognise depression

Do you have a colleague who is becoming increasingly withdrawn? If so, they may be showing signs of depression.

People who are depressed tend to start avoiding social contact, saying “no” to doing things they’d normally have enjoyed. They probably won’t want to talk very much either. Not surprisingly, isolating themselves and doing less can actually make them feel worse - but there are ways you can help.

Encourage meaningful activity

One of the most effective things you can do – which is an approach therapists take when they’re treating someone with depression – is to gently encourage the person to keep doing things, and to increase their activity level rather than pulling back. And it’s important that whatever they do is meaningful to them, if it’s to have a benefit.

Consider what you know about the person you want to help. What’s really important to them? Are they creative? Are they sporty, or into keeping themselves fit? Are they a parent? What about their partner – do they have a shared hobby or interest?

See things from their perspective

It can also be useful to put yourself in their shoes, and ask yourself what sort of colleague they’d want you to be. Everyone has different needs, and every relationship has its own dynamics. Letting them know you’re there to listen – or just to sit in silence, if that’s what they need – can be extremely valuable.

Whether you’re inviting the person to join you for a professional or social occasion or event, give them lots of reassurance that there are no expectations. Nobody expects them to be the life and soul. They can just come along and ‘be’. Say “We know you’re not feeling great right now, and it doesn’t matter – we want you around, so let’s just do it”. If they say no, keep coming back and opening the invitation again.

Provide reassurance

This is really important, because people who are feeling depressed often worry that they’re a burden to others, or that they’ll ‘put a downer on the mood’ if they attend an event. Knowing that they’re not being rejected, and that people care and still want their company, can be very helpful.

Encourage them to seek help

Another way you can support someone with depression is to gently try and motivate them to seek help, when you feel the time is right. Making an appointment with their GP or healthcare practitioner can be the first step on the path to feeling better.

Remember to take care of you too

Finally, don’t forget about yourself. It may sound cliched, but if you don’t take care of yourself, how can you continue to take care of others? Aaron Beck, who created cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), advises therapists not to treat more than three patients with depression in a day because it can take a lot of energy to give the support they need. Therefore, it’s important to look after your own well-being as you try to help them:

  • Talk to someone about your feelings
  • Confront difficult emotions like frustration, anger or guilt
  • Eat and sleep well to keep your energy up
  • Find time to relax or meditate
  • Take time out to do things you enjoy
  • Set boundaries: you have a life to live too

If you suspect someone you know might be feeling depressed, online cognitive behavioural therapy can help. Learn more about how it works here.

If you have a colleague who is depressed, it’s natural to want to help them. It’s not always easy to know how best to do this though. Here are some expert tips from ieso clinicians.