• Approach with a hopeful, not cheerful, attitude.
  • Decide how much time you can mentally and physically afford to spend with the person - and stick to it. You need to recharge yourself if you are going to be a source of support and energy.
  • Encourage the person to seek medical help, especially that of a mental health practitioner, after consultation with a physician. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other trained counsellors should have expert knowledge of the medications and dosages that are appropriate.
  • Find out about the medications the person in depression is receiving. These take from four to six weeks to have noticeable effects and the first few weeks of medications require special encouragement and support.
  • During a depressive episode the sufferer may experience a whole range of moods for long periods. Remember that the sufferer does not want to go through this. Just try to be available for the person for these periods. Suggestions to 'get yourself better' will probably be impossible for the sufferer.
  • Emphasize that, as black as things seem, change is possible; time is essential.
  • People in depression desperately need someone to cling to. If you are a casual friend, be merciful and gentle, give a bit of your time, and try to learn more and understand the disease. If you are a close friend, try to be there when others do not have time. There will be times when you are rejected but try to accept the person through the disease.
  • Recovery will be slow, although casual friends may expect a complete recovery almost immediately.
  • Sufferers from depression find it extremely difficult to make even the simplest decision and often make an incorrect one. Supporters must learn to be tolerant and patient.
  • Sufferers often feel worthless and need constant reassurance as to their past and future worth and accomplishments.
  • Understand that this is their problem, not yours. This will help distance yourself emotionally from the problem and buffer yourself against the stress.
  • Stress that depression is a well defined disorder from which recovery is probable, although sometimes slow and discouraging.
  • Call or visit towards the end of the day and review the day, stressing the positive activities and accomplishments. Assist in planning just one activity for the next day. Suggest tasks that can be accomplished in a short period of time and can be done well.
  • Remember that adequate nutrition, exercise and rest are key factors in lifting depression.
  • Review with the person the times when they have been successful in coping with difficult situations before.
  • A change of scenery is impossible for a person in depression. The cloud follows them wherever they go and must be contended with.
  • Be supportive but do not take away responsibilities. The sufferer must take responsibility even when it is painful or exhausting.
  • Depressives sometimes cannot try harder, that will only compound the illness. Try getting them to relax and not fight the illness.
As one sufferer said:

"All people in depression need patience, patience, patience. Depression is a disease. It is marked by a chemical imbalance in the brain. No one ever wants to be depressed. No one can simply throw off a moderate or severe depression. It would be nice if someone could.

"Being there" is the most important thing, with gentle understanding.

Depression brings an agony within which death seems to be a blessed relief from anxiety, fear and loneliness. It takes a great friend to stay with someone in this state, to stay without lecturing, without condemnation, without exasperation, without fleeing.

Above all, recall that depression is an illness and try to blame any consequences on the illness and not on the sufferer."

For more information, contact:

Your doctor

Your school / university / private practice counsellor

The Mental Health Unit at the hospital