Supporting a loved one suffering depression can be stressful, challenging and frightening
For those of us with a loved one battling depression, it can be a stressful, challenging and frightening time. Although every personal experience is unique, there are ways that family and friends can help someone through their depression.
While some of us will have a loved one who has already been clinically diagnosed with depression, others may have noticed that something isn’t right and will be supporting our loved one and encouraging them to seek professional help.
Here we speak with Alyssa Lalor, Program Director at South Pacific Private, about the depression signs to look out for, how best to support someone with depression, ways we can encourage them to seek help and how depression is treated at Australia’s leading treatment centre for mental health.
What signs should we look out for if we're worried about someone?
It’s common for people not to be upfront with discussing their mental health with their loved ones, so it’s important to know the signs to look out for. According to Lalor, the two biggest signs that someone may be struggling with depression are both physical: eating and sleep patterns. “If you notice they are starting to eat more and eating unhealthy or equally they don’t seem to be eating much it’s usually a good indicator they might be under some stress.” She says the same goes for sleeping. “Partners, parents or housemates may notice that the person is going to bed really late, or staying up all night and sleeping all day, or waking up in the middle of the night,” she says. “Or perhaps you and your partner are no longer going to bed at the same time. Again this can be a sign that they might be stressed and struggling with their mental health.”
Lalor says that often friends who are struggling with their mental health will withdraw. “You may notice that they keep cancelling plans, making excuses why they can't catch up, stop replying to text messages or don't answer their phone.”
She says that depression is more than simply feeling down or having a bad day. The person may also be very emotional, lose interest in normal activities, have trouble concentrating and remembering things or cry for no reason.
How can we approach a conversation and encourage them to seek professional help?
Raising the subject of seeking professional help for depression can be daunting for family or friends. Lalor says to avoid giving advice and trying to ‘fix it’. She says you can start the conversation one of these ways:
- You haven’t seemed yourself lately, how are you feeling?
- Hey, I’ve been noticing that you’re a little XXX, is something troubling you?
- I just wanted to check and see how you are travelling...
“Ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Letting them know you are here if they need to talk is important,” says Lalor.
How is depression treated at South Pacific Private?
“Depression is a very common issue for our clients at South Pacific Private,” says Lalor. “At least 75 percent of clients would put their hands up if you asked them: ‘do or have you ever struggled with depression?’.”
“One of the main advantages of our treatment here at South Pacific Private is that it’s a therapeutic community-based treatment approach. This is half the battle when dealing with depression, as depression makes you isolate and withdraw, but in treatment you have to adapt and attend groups and lectures and be part of the community,” she explains.
The program at South Pacific Private aims to build resilience and confidence, equipping clients with the tools they need for living a life of freedom and joy.
“We also offer evening depression and anxiety support groups for our clients, lectures on the subject and you have regular psychiatrist reviews and group therapy sessions with your primary therapist,” explains Lalor.
Helping someone with depression can be overwhelming for the support person too - how can we look after themselves?
Lalor says it’s important to look after yourself by taking time out for self-care. “When supporting someone with depression, you can become more vulnerable to experience your own mental health issues,” she says. “Remember you can only offer what you have. It’s like when you’re flying, they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before your loved ones because if you can’t breathe you are not much good for your loved ones.”
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