Things to look out for
Depression can be difficult to spot, and people with depression might have symptoms you wouldn’t usually expect.
Someone might have depression if they:
- stop enjoying things they used to
- lose contact with friends or relatives
- seem tired or restless more than usual
- start speaking or moving more slowly
- can’t concentrate on things
- start sleeping markedly more or less than usual
- eat much more or less than usual
- seem to be feeling down or hopeless.
The NHS has a list of the symptoms of depression.
If you’re worried about an older person, look out for signs that they aren’t taking care of themselves, such as:
- poor personal hygiene
- not taking care of their appearance
- empty fridges and cupboards
- isolating themselves or avoiding visitors.
Keep an eye out for people who have recently had experiences that could trigger depression, such as major life changes, a diagnosis of a serious illness or a bereavement. They may well not become depressed, but if they do it’s easy for it to go unnoticed.
What to do
If you’re worried about someone, try to prompt them gently to speak about their feelings. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed of feeling depressed, so don’t put any pressure on them or get annoyed if they don’t want to talk about it.
Let them know that they’re not to blame for feeling depressed – depression is an illness. Show them that you understand that they can’t just ‘snap out of it’ or ‘cheer up’ and quickly feel better.
It’s important that they know that you are there for them if they want to talk or support, and that you won’t judge them. Try to encourage them to take care of themselves, for example by eating well and exercising. Let them know there is support out there, either through their GP or a local support group.
Without putting pressure on them, encourage them to see a GP or seek counselling. With treatment, almost everyone with depression gets better. If they do get treatment, encourage them to stick with it, or seek an alternative if it isn’t working for them.
Make sure you stay in touch – people with depression can feel worthless or like they’re a burden, and people losing touch with them can reinforce that feeling.
If they need urgent help
If someone expresses suicidal feelings, they need help. Make sure either they or you speak to a GP or call NHS 111.
Samaritans has a confidential 24-hour helpline that they or you could call on 116 123.
If you think someone is in immediate danger of harming themselves, call 999.
If you’re a carer
Depression combined with other medical problems can be complicated. Make sure they take all their medication and any other prescribed treatments, and don’t neglect their physical health.
Try not to get frustrated with them if their behaviour changes, but encourage them to talk about their feelings and seek help. Make sure that any treatment they get for depression is part of a care plan that considers all their needs.
Carers UK has a forum for people to talk about caring for someone with mental health problems.
Make sure you’re both getting all the support you’re entitled to. Call us on 0800 319 6789 to arrange a free benefits check, and for advice and information. Our guide Caring for someone has information about support for carers.
Take care of yourself
Looking after someone else can be very taxing, so make sure you are staying healthy as well. It could especially difficult if you have your own experiences with depression, or feel vulnerable yourself.
There could be times when you need to protect your own mental health, and encourage them to have certain conversations with someone else. This could be another friend or relative, a GP or a therapist. It could also be with a confidential helpline, such as Samaritans, or a local support group. Mind has information about support groups in your area.
It might seem tempting to try to do everything for them, but that’s not good for either of you. Your wellbeing is just as important as theirs, and you can only support someone if you are well enough yourself.
There are organisations that can help you if you are struggling to support someone else with depression. You could call Samaritans on 116 123, or contact Mind for advice on maintaining your own mental wellbeing.
If you're worried about someone, ask them how they're doing. Encourage them to see their GP if they're worried about their mental health. Our free advice guide, Dealing with depression, could be a good conversation starter.