With several projects – including the royal-backed Heads Together campaign and the incredible Bryony Gordon and Prince Harry Mad World podcast – working hard to reduce the stigma around mental health as well as today marking the advent of Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re waking up to the fact that we all need to talk more openly about depression.
Around one in ten people in the UK will experience depression at some point in their lives, and if you know someone who is struggling, you can feel powerless, frustrated, anxious, confused and even unequipped to offer support. To help someone navigate depression – from recognising symptoms to seeking help – we spoke with anxiety expert and hypnotherapist Chloe Brotheridge for her do’s and don’ts.
Firstly – how do you know if someone is suffering from depression?
Depression varies from person to person, but as a general indicator someone suffering with the illness may become more withdrawn, making excuses not to see people and preferring to be alone. They might show less interest in things they used to enjoy doing, such as spending time with friends or having sex. Feeling more tired than usual or having problems with focus and concentration could also be a sign, as well as an increase in irritability or anger, crying more and changes in sleeping habits (such as oversleeping or experiencing insomnia). It’s important to stress that these symptoms aren’t an exhaustive list.
How can you tell the difference between feeling low and depressed?
Everyone experiences low periods in their life or bad days, but depression is more than this and it can go on for weeks or months. A doctor will use a questionnaire form called PQ9 to help diagnose mild, moderate or severe depression based on the symptoms and how long it has been going on for.
Where should you start when it comes to seeking help?
Depression should always be diagnosed by a doctor, so encourage your friend to book an appointment. If they don't feel listened to or understood by their GP, they can always ask to see someone else and get a second opinion – a GP may be able to refer you on to NHS therapy or recommend a therapist to you. However, there can be long waiting lists for NHS therapy so it might be worth seeking out a private therapist.
Having trust in a therapist is important, so asking friends for recommendations is a good step, and encourage your friend to speak with a few different therapists to find out how they work and if they feel comfortable with them. Therapy is a process, but it does work. It gives a safe space to talk about problems, to understand where they come from and to develop tools and strategies for feeling better. It isn't an overnight fix though, so be there to support your friend if they don't notice change right away.
Is there anything you should or shouldn’t say to a sufferer?
Just being there for them is the main thing you can do. Ask about how you can support them – they might need different things at different times, whether it’s some time alone or someone to listen. Also, try to read up on other people’s experiences of depression – you’ll learn it’s a very real illness and people can’t simply ‘snap out of it’. Make an effort to invite them to things such as social events or even a walk in the park, but don’t pressure them to come. Listen to them with empathy and understanding and gently encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling. It can also be beneficial to help them with self-management techniques – depression can make it harder to take care of yourself and be kind to your body, so remind them to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise.
Where can you learn more about anxiety and mental health?
MIND is a fantastic resource but it’s also worth reading up on official NHS advice. Log on to Time to Change to read about other people’s experiences of depression too – it’s very helpful for allowing non-sufferers to see how the illness impacts people’s lives.
Bryony Gordon’s Mad World podcast is a weekly podcast of interviews centered around mental health, and if you haven’t yet tuned in, it’s a great resource. The first in the ten-episode series was an insightful interview with Prince Harry showing how depression can affect people in a variety of ways. It’s a great place to start for a deeper understanding.
Finally – what’s the simplest way to help someone with mental health issues?
Ask them how they're feeling, listen with openness and empathy and encourage them to seek professional help. It's often said that a stressed brain is a depressed brain, so anything that can be done to manage stress will help, whether it’s meditating, exercising (preferably outdoors) or talking about your feelings – but understand that someone suffering from depression may not want or be able to do this, so it’s important not to pressure them or make them feel inadequate for not doing so.
Chloe Brotheridge is the author of The Anxiety Solution: A Quieter Mind A Calmer You, £12.99, available now on Amazon.