Think someone's depressed? How to help...

FRIEND FEELING DOWN? It's easy to feel helpless, but there are some things you can do to assist.
FRIEND FEELING DOWN? It's easy to feel helpless, but there are some things you can do to assist.

If there's one thing we've learnt from the tragic death of Robin Williams it's that the oft-repeated adage is true - depression doesn't discriminate.

It doesn't matter how successful you are, how talented you are or how loved you are, depression can still taunt you, overshadowing the positives, stealthily robbing you of joy.

Not surprisingly, depression is the most common risk factor for suicidal behaviour, and is estimated to increase the risk of suicide by 20 times, according to the New Zealand Health Promotion Agency.

One in six New Zealanders will experience serious depression, at some time in their life. It is not always obvious or crippling, and for those reasons it can slip under the radar. But the key signs are constantly feeling down or hopeless, and having little interest or pleasure in doing things you used to enjoy.

Pinpointing those feelings can of course take time, and sometimes other tell-tale signs are easier to spot. These can include irritability or restlessness, feeling tired all the time or a general loss of energy. Worrying about things more than usual, or anxiety, is another sign to watch.

If you think you've seen these signs in someone you care about, you can actually make a huge difference in their life. Don't be afraid to open a conversation about how they're feeling - even if you're worried about saying the wrong thing. Below we outline some helpful do's and don'ts, but the most important thing is to simply listen.

Things to consider first

Chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation Judi Clements says if you can get someone to open up, giving them the room to talk out their emotions might help them get a different perspective to what they had before.

"Listen to what they have to say rather than tell them what they should be counting their blessings for," advises Clements.

What's also really important, even before opening the conversation, is evaluating how you might be able to help.

"You need to come to terms in your own mind with what you are able to do. It's important (support) people don't set a threshold for themselves that becomes undoable."

Your role might be to listen without judging or challenging the person's point of view. You might also suggest they see a doctor, or help them make an appointment or perhaps go with them.

If you have limitations on your time due to work and family commitments, know that you don't have to do it all on your own - you can help someone get help and advice from other people.

"Come from the position of support, kindness and compassion," says Clements. Try and put yourself in the other person's shoes, but do not expect to take full responsibility for them.

She also adds, while it's usual to say 'I'm there for you', it also helps to show the depth of your feelings by saying something like 'I really care for you'. People with depression can often feel unwanted or unloved, so reminders that they're cared for can have a great impact.

Do's and don'ts

The New Zealand Health Promotion Agency publishes a list of do's and don'ts at - here are a few of those tips:

  • DO spend time listening about someone's experiences, without being judgmental.
  • DO suggest they see a doctor or health professional.
  • DO talk openly about depression (don't avoid the subject like it's something to be ashamed of).
  • DO encourage them to exercise and eat well.
  • DO provide a change of scenery occasionally.
  • DON'T pressure them to 'snap out of it' or 'get their act together'.
  • DON'T stay away or avoid them.
  • DON'T tell them they just need to stay busy or get out more.
  • DON'T assume the problem will just go away.

For more help and advice:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - Provides 24 hour telephone counselling
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 - Provides 24 hour telephone and text counselling services for young people
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - Provides 24 hour telephone counselling.
  • Tautoko: 0508 828 865 - provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whānau and friends.
  • Alcohol & Drug Helpline: 0800 787 797
  • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to 11pm)
  • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm - 6pm weekdays)

If it is an emergency or you feel you or someone you know is at risk, please call 111

For information about suicide prevention, see