What can friends and family do to help?

This section is for friends and family who want to support someone they know who has seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD can have a major impact on someone’s life and leave them feeling very ill for that particular season. Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness often mean that people avoid their friends and family members rather than ask for help or support. However, this is a time when they need your help and support most.

Perhaps the most important thing that you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to seek appropriate treatment. You can reassure them that it is possible to do something to improve their situation, but you need to do so in a caring and sympathetic way.

If you are able, you might want to offer them practical support to help with this. For example, you could:

  • Help out with household tasks, particularly if they need time for treatment such as seeing a counsellor or light therapy
  • If they are taking antidepressants, help them to cope with any side effects where you can, for example by letting them lie in if they have disturbed sleep
  • Be particularly sensitive about what they can and cannot cope with, for example by avoiding having large numbers of house guests at once during winter

As well as these practical steps, you can show your friend or family member that you care by listening to them sympathetically, by being affectionate, by appreciating them, or simply by spending time with them.

Even with support, someone with SAD can be irritable or find it difficult to relate to other people. It can be hard to support someone if they do not appear to appreciate the help you are trying to offer. You may find that you need to be a bit more patient than usual. Try not to blame the person for being depressed, or tell them to ‘pull themselves together’. They are probably already blaming themselves, and criticism is likely to make them feel even worse. Remember that with help and understanding they are likely to feel better with time.

Looking after yourself

Supporting a friend or family member can be difficult, and you may want to seek support to help you cope. There may be a local support group for people in a similar situation as you, or you might want to talk to your family doctor about getting help for yourself.

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