Ask the health expert: What can I do to help someone who may have depression?


Ask the health expert is AsiaOne's new series. Have a burning health-related question for the doctor? Submit your query to and we'll get you the answers.

Q: What can I do to help someone who may have depression?

A: It can be distressing to see a loved one suffer from the grips of depression.

Don't you sometimes feel they should simply 'snap out of it', or 'not think so much' about the unhappy things that are going on in their lives?

Well, the truth is, as much as they wish to, they are unable to.

Depression is a type of mental illness that requires not only professional help but also support from loved ones.

Here are some steps you can take to help them:

1. Do not normalise or trivialise their symptoms

Individuals suffering from depression require a lot of support and encouragement from their loved ones.

Reach out to them as social isolation can worsen depression.

2. Listen to them with empathy

It is important to find out their concerns and provide adequate support.

Avoid any active problem solving for them even though you're tempted to - sometimes, they just need a listening ear that doesn't judge.

Watch out for these signs of depression

  • Distancing themselves from friends and loved ones
  • Sleepiness
  • Constantly overworking
  • As long as it does not interfere with their daily functions, such as taking care of the kids or themselves, leave them alone.
  • Smoking more cigarettes
  • Extreme dieting
  • Non-drinkers who begin drinking daily may not be consuming high amounts of alcohol but are unable to relax unless they do so.
  • Does a friend who is usually in control of their emotions begin frequently displaying bursts of anger?
  • Take notice when someone starts moving away from things that were healthy for them, such as spending a healthy amount of time with friends or exercising, to doing nothing, for over a year.
  • These are some extreme statements of failure that can be a cause for concern for friends and family members and should be taken seriously.
  • Some of the things that we would normally shrug off, such as loud noises or children laughing, seem to create extreme distress for the individual, showing that the person may have too much going on in life.
  • "If this person suddenly starts giving away their personal things and is happy doing it - please beware. "That is not a good sign," said Dr Anasuya, adding that it could be a sign of suicidal tendencies.
  • Sometimes, no matter how much one tries to offer support or advice to a loved one, their words have no effect on the depressed individual.
  • Helpers need to know when to take a step back or may end up becoming depressed themselves.

3. Encourage them to eat healthily

Individuals suffering from depression may find it difficult to even get out of bed every morning.

Encourage them to be more actively involved in physical activities as exercise can boost the levels of 'feel-good' hormones (e.g. neurotransmitters and endorphins) and lift their mood!

Establish a daily routine and engage them in activities throughout the day. It can improve bad sleeping habits which can worsen insomnia at night.

Furthermore, channeling their attention to other activities can help them find a new purpose in life.

4. Keep a close watch on their safety

Depression can sometimes be so devastating to an individual that they find life not worth living.

In some situations, they may even contemplate hurting the people closest to them. A new mother suffering from postnatal depression may think it is a better option to die together with her baby.

If you realise someone around you having suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts, it is a psychiatric emergency and you should seek professional help immediately.

You can also be more observant of people around you who might be suffering from depression and lend them a listening ear to let them know they are not alone.

However, if efforts have been taken to help your loved one but the feelings of sadness still persist, it is always good to encourage them to seek a professional opinion.

Dr Poon Shi Hui, Associate Consultant, Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital