Health and Wellbeing, Mental health, New Students

My friend told me they have depression…what can I do?

Natalie, Student Wellbeing Champion, talks about depression and tips for supporting a friend experiencing the illness.

Depression is more than just ‘feeling sad’, it is a mental illness which causes people to experience low self-esteem, lack of motivation and permeating feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, negativity and helplessness. You can’t just make it go away or snap out of it. If a friend tells you they have depression, you should do your best to support them in a healthy way. Here is some guidance..



Depression: not as uncommon as you think

  • One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives
  • Depression affects around 12% of the population
  • 350 millions people worldwide are diagnosed with the illness
  • Rates of self-harm in the UK are the highest in europe at 400 per 100,000.

Despite depression being the leading cause of disability worldwide, there is still a strong social stigma attached to the illness. Fewer than half of the people affected are effectively treated. Over 800,000 people commit suicide each year, making it the second leading cause of death in 15-29 year olds.


What is depression?


Tips: supporting someone suffering from depression


Things to Say

-You are not alone in this

-I can’t really understand what you are feeling and going through, but I am here for you

-Even if it doesn’t seem that way, the feeling won’t last forever

-You are important to me

-I’m still here and I’m not going anywhere

-If you’d rather to talk to a professional and you are not ready, I can help you sort that out

-You’re not wrong in feeling this way and no one blames you for it

-I care about you

Things Not to Say

-There is always someone worse off than you

-You’re freaking out over nothing

-Stop feeling sorry for yourself

-Try not to be so depressed

-Just cheer up

-It’s your own fault

-I know how you feel, I was depressed for several days

-Haven’t you grown tired of this “me, me, me” stuff?

-Snap out of it, everyone has problems

  • Be sensitive when approaching the subject. Try not to blame the person or put too much pressure on them to get better. They are probably already being critical and harsh towards themselves already. Be gentle, respectful and communicate honestly and openly.
  • Point out that depression is a medical condition. It is not a weakness or personality trait and it’s normal that they can’t “just get over it” anymore than if they had a broken leg.
  • Learn about the illness together. This gives validation and allows them to know you are there for them throughout their journey and recovery.
  • Talk less, listen more
  • Check in on a regular basis.
  • Talking about depression can make it easier for people to open up and ask for help, as it would help erode the stigma surrounding the illness.
  • Stress is one of the biggest drivers of depression, help out whenever you can to reduce stress. Encourage exercise and doing activities they enjoy.
  • Recognize that you alone do not have the power to completely heal them. Encourage them to get professional help. If they are not ready, give them time but remind them that there are people out there that would be happy to help whenever they are ready. This includes your GP and the Cardiff University Counselling, Health and Wellbeing Centre. There are also courses and workshops available, that could help them realise they are not alone and get help. Read about Living Life to the Full, Stronger Day by Day or about all of our courses and workshops.


‘Living with a Black Dog’, a video about depression


Know the warning signs

When someone has depression, they may not understand the options available to help to relieve their suffering. Many report feeling as though they’ve lost the ability to imagine a happy future, or remember a happy past. Emotional and physical pain can become unbearable. Suicidal thoughts become more prominent. They don’t want to die, they just don’t want to live the life they are living. It’s the only way they feel their pain will end. This is an irrational choice, and whilst the condition is involuntary, it is a treatable illness and can be managed.

Warning signs:

  • Talking about suicide, dying or harming oneself
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or self-hate
  • Acting in dangerous or self-destructive ways
  • Getting affairs in order and saying goodbye
  • Seeking out pills, weapons or other lethal objects
  • Sudden sense of calm after a depression

If you are worried about someone who is at immediate risk, please click here for assessment of immediate danger and here for steps to take.


If a friend is suicidal

  • Encourage them to call the Samaritans, 116 123, open 24 hours a day or C.A.L.L. helpline (Community Advice & Listening Line for Wales): 0800 132 737 / text HELP and your question to 81066
  • Contact their GP for an emergency appointment or the out of hours service
  • Call their Community Mental Health Team (CMHT), if they have one
  • Ring 999 or NHS direct (111 from any landline or mobile phone, free of charge)
  • Go to the nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E) department.


Taking care of yourself

When someone you care about is struggling with depression, you may want to help with everything you can. You put in a lot of time and effort. You try to there for them all the time. However, sometimes it may seem like everything that you are doing is not enough. They are still suffering. Remember that your mental health is as important, and helping others can put a strain on your wellbeing.

  • Set boundaries. Of course you would w
    ant to help as much as you can, but know that there is only so much you can do. Have limits on what you can and can’t do. Don’t let your life be controlled by your loved one’s depression.
  • Stay on track with your life. Honour your own needs. Keep a balance.
  • Take a break when you need it. Helping and supporting someone can be overwhelming at times, make sure you are also taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. Remember, you can’t fully support others when you yourself are not in your best state of mind.
  • Be realistic about what you can do. Understand that you don’t have to do everything. By just doing the simplest thing and being there for them, it is probably already helping them a lot. The happiness of your loved one is not solely your responsibility, so do not blame yourself if you can’t “fix” their depression.
  • Be mindful. Notice if you are increasingly having negative thoughts. Doing mindfulness exercises will help you become more aware of your thoughts as well as helping you managing your stress level by keeping your mind in the present moment. Counselling, Health and Wellbeing also offer a Mindfulness course that run once a week for 4 weeks. Find out more here.
  • Talk to someone you trust. Seek help. If you are feeling stressed or distressed, remember that you are not alone. The Counselling, Health and Wellbeing team are here to listen to you, offering confidential advice and guidance. You do not have to go through it alone.


Useful links

  • Samaritans- Confidential support if you’re experiencing feelings of distress or despair (24 hour helpline) Tel: 08457909090 Email:
  • C.A.L.L. Community Advice & Listening Line for Wales Tel: 0800 132 737 Text: HELP and your question to 81066
  • Depression Alliance Charity in the UK, has network of self help groups
  • Mind Provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem.
  • Rethink Mental Illness Tel: 0300 5000 927 (10am–2pm)
  • NHS 24 (scotland) 08454242424
  • NHS Direct (England & Wales): 08454647


Contacting Counselling Health and Wellbeing

If you are struggling to improve your wellbeing, please know Cardiff University Support Services are here for you – there is no problem too big or too small and we would be happy to provide you with some support. We offer a range of flexible support options including:

Bookable appointments are available via our online referral questionnaire. We also offer a Wellbeing Walk-In Service, Monday to Friday, 3pm to 3.45pm and Wednesday mornings, 9.30am to 10.15am, at the Student Support Centre at 50 Park Place.  We also hold a walk-in service at our Student Support Centre in Cardigan House at the Heath, on Wednesday afternoons 3pm to 3.45pm.

 Watch our video and see for yourself that we have friendly and approachable staff. Staff who are able to listen to you non-judgmentally, in a safe and confidential space.

If talking to a member of staff is something you are not sure about, why not chat to one of our Student Wellbeing Champions. They are trained student volunteers who can signpost you to support, offer you a peer ear and give you basic health and wellbeing advice. If you would like to see our Champions in action, check out their video.

If you are worried that you are experiencing physical symptoms that may be affecting your health, we strongly advise you to make a GP appointment to discuss this. If you do not already have a GP, please contact NHS Wales on 0845 46 47 or check out their website to view all of your GP options. The University also has its own GP Practice – Park Place Surgery for those in their catchment area.


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Best wishes

Natalie, Student Wellbeing Champion.


Your Student Life, Supported. 

The Student Support Centre has a range of services dedicated to helping students make the most of their time at University, including: Advice and MoneyCareers and EmployabilityCounselling, Health and WellbeingDisability and Dyslexia and International Student Support.

The Student Support Centres are located at 50 Park Place, Cathays Campus and Cardigan House, Heath Park Campus.

For further details of services, events, opening times and more find us on the University Intranet.


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