Helping them to help themselves

If depression is mild, simple self-help measures can usually help. For example, doctors may suggest guided self-help plans. These can take various forms and may include computer-led programmes that are done alone or with the help of a therapist over the telephone. In cases of severe depression self-help measures will be part of a plan drawn up with a doctor or specialist in mental distress.

There is also some evidence to show that understanding the condition, doing exercise, having a good diet and sharing experiences with others in a similar situation, for example in a self-help group can be very beneficial.

Here are few things to bear in mind when talking to someone about ways in which they may be able to help themselves.

  • Being mindful of thoughts - Standing back from thoughts and just observing them can help to highlight unhelpful patterns of thinking that may be causing someone to feel depressed.
  • Staying in contact - Talking things through with a friend or family member can help to lessen the burden of negative thoughts and can sometimes help to find a solution.
  • Joining a group - can be a way of meeting people who are going through the same things, which can provide great support and understanding. GP practices should have a list of what is available in the area. For example, they might like to contact RELATE if they have relationship problem or Cruse if their depression has been triggered by loss or bereavement.
  • Looking after themselves - Paying attention to simple physical needs such as eating, sleeping and exercise can all help alleviate mild-to-moderate depression.
  • Diet can play a part - Some studies suggest omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 -especially if nutrient levels are low - may ease the mood changes that are part of depression. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids. So do flaxseed, nuts, soybeans, and dark green vegetables. Seafood and low-fat dairy products are sources of B12. Most people don’t consume enough of these foods and they may need a supplement to obtain optimum benefits.
  • Having fun can help - Finding out what someone likes doing and helping them to do it can be beneficial. It could be shopping, listening to music, watching a movie, having a massage – little things all count. Draw up a list of things they enjoy and suggest they do one of them at least three or four times a week.
  • Trying something new - Once they start feeling a bit better taking up a new hobby or activity at the weekend or at an evening class can help lift mood still further. Good options include joining a book club, a knitting circle or having a go at the local pub quiz? This can help to break the vicious circle of loneliness and spending too much time dwelling on negative thoughts.
  • Talk about it - Talking therapies usually involve meeting with a trained therapist either alone or in a group where people talk about their problems and try to find a solution. They may be offered psychotherapy and general counselling. But according to NICE, the most effective treatment for depression is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which should be offered to people by their GP. It shows people how to replace unhelpful negative thoughts, which could be contributing to their depression with more realistic and balanced ones.

There are also a number of Internet-based CBT programmes, which research suggests are helping many more people get help with their depression. The reason? They can access them at home in their own time.