You don’t need to be a counsellor or mental health expert to help a young person suffering from depression or anxiety.
According to experts from professional counselling services, the first step towards wellness can be as simple as asking, “Are you OK?” and lending an ear, being willing to listen to someone without being judgmental.
One in 20 young people aged 12-17 years have experienced a major depressive disorder and suicide remains the biggest killer of young Australians, accounting for the deaths of more young people than car accidents. So recognising the signs of depression and being there for someone can be an early turning point.
Mandy Paterson from Samaritans, a national 24/7 help line for people at risk of suicide, says listening to people helps them feel understood and cared for, with the simple act of talking helping that person think more rationally.
“Often people just need a listening ear, not a plan to fix them or their problems,” Ms Paterson told Hatch.
“It is more a matter of empathising with them without judgment and allowing them to talk about how they feel when they are ready to talk.”
Ms Paterson said while listeners do not need to give specific advice, they can encourage general wellbeing, such as getting plenty of rest, exercising, eating well and steering away from negative television, print media and online publications.
If the young person denies there is a problem, or doesn’t want to open up, it is important not to push or criticise them, according to Ms Paterson. And if the friend or family member believes the person is in danger then they should seek professional help.
“Dealing with depression and suicidal feelings can be overwhelming and extremely challenging,” Ms Paterson said.
“It is important to take each day as it comes and to remember there is always help available.”
Robbie (not his real name) spoke to Hatch about his depression and the steps he took to overcome suicidal thoughts.
The 20-year-old from Western Sydney said when he was suffering from severe depression the act of connecting with a friend who listened to him was the turning point. His friend helped him work through each problem in his life.
Robbie explained that the negativity in his life was weighing him down. Removing the negativity and focusing on the positives helped him get better.
He said his friend helped him realise what it was that made him happy in life and what gave his life purpose.
Headspace, a national youth mental health foundation, agrees listening is a key way to help people suffering from depression or anxiety.
Its website advises friends and family to ask people showing symptoms of depression whether they are OK: “Take the time to listen to them and try not to judge or ‘fix things’ straight away. Let your young person know that they don’t have to go through things on their own and that you are there to help and support them… Listen intently and check that you have understood them by asking questions.”
If you or anyone you know is going through a tough time, don’t hesitate to reach out to someone. And if this article has raised any issues for you here are some contacts that can help you:
Samaritans 135 247; Lifeline 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467; Headspace 1800 650 890; and Beyond Blue 1300 224 636. – Story, video, photographs and illustration by Jessica Spiteri