Caring for loved ones with depression

Individuals, families and communities are in a time of change and, for some, this change has multiplied the pressure of caring for loved ones with depression. Carers of depression may often find themselves ‘burnt-out’ and feeling drained, both physically and mentally, consequently effecting one’s health and wellbeing.

Does someone you care about have depression?

If someone you care about has a depressive disorder, you are not alone. This common condition affects one in seven people. While the exact symptoms of depression can vary between people, some typical symptoms can include:

  • Feel down, sad, empty or tearful most of the time
  • Withdraw and become uncommunicative, disinterested or irritable
  • Either have insomnia or just sleep most of the time
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Find it hard to concentrate, feel exhausted, lethargic or agitated
  • Feel worthless, guilty, hopeless or suicidal

The good news is, there are effective medical and psychological treatments for depression. With time, treatment, support and personal recovery strategies, people can find ways to manage their condition.

Close family and friends can play an important role

Good support has a role in helping people to keep well and recover from depression, but it’s not easy to know how to provide this support. You may worry that you will say the wrong thing, do too much or not enough.

People with depression vary in how much support they want from family and friends. The support you provide may also need to be tailored to how depressed the person is, as depression can range from very mild to severe. Some days a person might need a family member or a friend to do a lot to help, other days they may require much less support.

Providing care can take its toll

When someone close to us is sick, we tend to put their needs before our own. While this might be fine (and necessary) in the short-term, if we do this too often we can feel burnt out and exhausted.

This is why close family, partners and friends who support a person with depression are at an increased risk of becoming stressed and developing health problems themselves.

Types of support

There are a number of different ways to support a person with depression but these need to be carefully tailored to the situation, and adapted to suit you and the person with depression. These include:

  • Practical support – assistance with chores the person is temporarily unable to manage, or helping to support their treatment
  • Emotional support – showing the person that you care and value them
  • Companionship – doing something together or talking things through
  • Non-verbal support – spending quiet time together, listening to the person
  • Information and suggestions – discussing information or resources for depression. 

Help is out there 

Researchers at Deakin University have developed Depression Assist, a website designed to support carers of a person diagnosed with major depressive disorder. They consulted the latest research in the area and the views of experienced family and friends, people with major depressive disorder themselves and mental health experts about what should be included on the website.

Depression Assist provides information about depression, but it also includes practical tips and activities designed to assist family and friends to handle the challenges of their role. Topics covered include:

  • How to recognise depression, causes and triggers of depression and helpful treatment and recovery strategies.
  • Ways to be supportive depending on the situation.
  • How to communicate with the person when they are depressed or about their depression.
  • Ways to deal with suicide risk.
  • How family and friends can manage their own wellbeing.
  • How to deal with the effect of depression on their relationship with the person.

To ensure the website is useful and to see how it can be improved, the researchers are looking for feedback from the community. If you would like to find out more on how you can contribute to providing your feedback, visit