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  • Writer's pictureJude Chapman

Helping a Family Member with Depression

My name’s Jude, I’m the author of My Memory Lane, a guided journal I created to help my mum Judy through her depression in her later years. I felt lost in how to help Mum through this at the time, so I thought this blog might be helpful to others currently trying to support a loved one.

Me and my Mum, Judy

First, a brief overview of what depression actually is. Depression is different from just feeling sad or unmotivated, it can affect your feelings, thoughts, behaviour, as well as affect you physically. It can cause normally joyful activities to feel like a burden, the person may be unable to complete simple tasks, and may want to isolate themselves from loved ones.

Approaching the conversation

Choose a relaxed environment: Consider that opening up about mental health can be difficult, so a relaxed and no pressure environment can be very beneficial.

Choose the right moment: Choose a moment when the person isn’t in the middle of something. It can be easy to brush off questions of how they’re doing if their mind is busy with something else. Try to choose a time when you have their full attention and they are relaxed.

Trust your relationship: Consider what they have reacted to positively in the past, and the best way that your relationship has proven to approach them.

Here are a few conversation starter suggestions:

· “I’ve noticed you have been quieter lately, is everything okay?”

· “So how are things at the moment for you?”

· In the case they have been through something difficult recently “I know (situation) was difficult, how do you seem to be coping?”

Having the conversation

Let them know you care: It may go without saying that you care about your family member, during this discussion it could be a good time to reaffirm this. Letting them know you care can help a person with depression feel safe in confiding in you.

· “You can always talk to me when you’re not feeling yourself”

· “I just want you to know that I care about you and I want to help however I can”

Be understanding: Listen to what the person is saying, and try not to interrupt. Don’t be quick to judge if you wouldn’t feel the same, or tell them they’re overreacting, as this may cause the person to shut down and not share with you again quickly.

· “That sounds really difficult, I’m sorry to hear that”

· “Thank you for opening up to me, I’m glad you feel that we can talk about these things openly”

Ask what you can do: Don’t try to fix it. Unless your family member asks specifically for advice, steer clear of trying to fix a person’s depression as this may feel invalidating. Listen to what they have to say and ask what you can do to help so they feel supported.

· “What can I do to support you through this?”

· "How can I help to make things a bit easier?"

Let them know they aren’t alone: In some cases, people may not know what they need to feel supported, in this case keep the lines of communication open and let them know that if they need anything you are there.

· “It’s okay to not know what can help, just know I’m here for whatever you need”

· "If you think of anything that I can do please let me know"

After the conversation:

Follow up: A few days after you talk, follow up with the person to see how they are doing. This will let them know you were listening and are thinking of them.

· "Hi (family member), I just wanted to check in and see how you've been the last few days"

Ask if they have considered professional help: Sometimes speaking to someone with experience in treating mental health needs can be helpful. Try to bring this up in a supportive way instead of like there’s something wrong with your family member.

· "Do you think maybe it might be helpful talking to someone who understands what you're going through, such as a councillor?"

· "I've heard of a few different call services where you can talk to someone who understands how to help, do you think that might be helpful for you?"

Here are some hotlines available 24/7 if your family member is open to this:

· Beyond Blue – suicide and depression: 1300 22 4636

· LifeLine – anyone having a personal crisis: 13 11 14

· Suicide Call Back Service – anyone thinking about suicide: 1300 659 467

· MensLine Australia – for men experiencing hardship: 1300 78 99 78

· Open Arms – Veterans and families counselling: 1800 011 046

Consider if a guided journal would be helpful for your loved one: Creating a guided journal for my mum when she was experiencing depression helped give her a distraction, and allowed her to focus on good memories without even meaning to. Consider if this may be helpful for your family member. You can get your copy of My Memory Lane here.

The information in this blog comes from Beyond Blue.

Have you ever helped a loved one through depression? Or perhaps you’ve overcome it yourself? Please share your experiences with use in the comments

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