How to help someone with anxiety or depression

It can be hard to know the ‘right’ thing to say or do to help someone who has anxiety or depression. Remember: sometimes the most important thing you can do is just be there.

We have information and resources to help you decide what to say and do to support someone with a mental health condition.

If you’re not sure whether the person has a mental health condition, but you’re worried about them, visit How to talk to someone you’re worried about.

Illustration of couple walking a dog

How to start the conversation about mental health

A conversation can make a difference in helping someone feel less alone and more supported in recovering from anxiety and depression. Don’t underestimate the importance of just ‘being there’.

Talking about anxiety or depression for the first time may take some planning and thought.

Consider the following:
  • When is the person most likely to be able to pay attention?
  • Where are they most comfortable and at ease?
  • Where is there a place you both feel safe and won’t be interrupted?
It’s common for people not to discuss mental health conditions with family members or friends. There can be stigma around mental health where health issues aren’t discussed with friends or family members.

Negative views or stigma about mental health are often due to misunderstandings, cultural beliefs, misconceptions or lack of knowledge about mental health conditions and the associated signs and symptoms.

To improve your own knowledge of anxiety and depression, visit: Learn about mental health.

What to say to someone with anxiety or depression

It’s common to feel unsure about how to talk to someone with anxiety or depression, or to worry about saying the wrong thing.

We asked people who have experienced anxiety and depression to tell us what was most helpful to them.

Here are things you can say to help someone feel listened to, understood, and hopeful that things can improve.

“I’m here for you.”

Anxiety and depression can make people feel isolated and alone. It can really help to know someone will be there and stick by you during recovery.

“I can see this is a really hard time for you.”

Acknowledging the difficulties of anxiety and depression is one of the most helpful things you can do.

The least helpful statements are those that shut down the conversation. Don’t say:
  • “I know how you feel”
  • “Just snap out of it”
  • “You’re attention seeking”
  • “Think more positively”
  • “You’ll be right”
  • “Just get over it”. 

“I’m not sure what to do, but I’m sure we can figure it out together.”

You don’t have to have the answers. What’s important is that you’re willing to stick around and help them figure out how to start feeling better.

“What can I do to help? Just tell me how.”

Ask them to be honest about how you can help them. The support they need will change throughout their recovery so be prepared to be flexible.

Sometimes they may be so overwhelmed that they won’t know how you can help. Taking initiative and doing small things to show you care can also help.

“I know it doesn’t feel like it now but there is hope that things can get better.”

Encourage hope. Remind them that anxiety and depression are treatable. With the right support, most people recover.

“Have you thought about seeing your doctor or calling Beyond Blue? There is support available.”

Highlight the importance of seeking professional support. Friends and family can offer a great deal of support but professionals have a crucial role in treating anxiety and depression and promoting recovery.

For information about how to find professional support, make an appointment and what to expect, visit: Support someone to see a mental health professional.

For free mental health information and brief counselling, contact the Beyond Blue Support Service.

“This conversation is between you and me.”

It’s important they know they can trust you. Respect their privacy where possible by not sharing what they tell you with anyone unless they say you can.

If someone tells you they’re having suicidal thoughts, you may need to call in extra help. Let them know you may need to tell someone else to be able to help them stay safe.

“I'm sorry if I said the wrong thing. Can we start again?”

You’re both trying to talk through a difficult experience. Don’t worry if you say the wrong thing. Focus on what’s more important in the conversation.

“I’ve noticed you seem to be doing better lately. Is that how it feels for you?”

Sometimes improvements can be hard to notice, particularly if they are small and gradual. Gently pointing out your observations can help someone feel positive about getting better.

“Do you feel like doing something together to help take your mind off things?”

You don’t need to talk about how they’re feeling all the time. Doing something you both enjoy can help people with anxiety and depression:
  • change the focus of their negative thinking
  • offer a sense of hope for the future.
Iframe content loading...

Chronic illness, anxiety and depression

Anxiety and depression are common in people with chronic physical illness. With careful management, the symptoms of anxiety and depression can be treated along with those of many chronic physical illnesses.

If you’re supporting someone with a chronic illness and a mental health condition, help is available. There’s a range of treatments, health professionals and services to help with anxiety and depression as well as information on what you can do to help yourself.

To learn more, download our Chronic illness, anxiety and depression fact sheet.

Recovery stages for anxiety and depression

Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression don’t always have a clear beginning, middle and end.

​Recovery might include:
  • trialling different medications
  • one or more types of psychological treatment
  • one or more health professional.

Support networks for someone with anxiety or depression

Ongoing support is important for a person’s recovery. Support may come from many sources, including:
  • family, friends, colleagues, elders
  • mental health professionals
  • support groups, such as our anonymous online peer support forum.
The Black Dog Institute has a directory of support groups in your state: Support groups – Black Dog Institute.

You can help the person you’re supporting connect with others to make sure they’re not completely reliant on you.

Connect with our online peer support community

Illustration of a man connecting with a community online
Anonymously read, share and learn from people who understand what you're going through. Share tips on supporting a partner, family member or friend with a mental health condition, and seeking support for your own wellbeing.
Visit our Forums

Help a partner with anxiety or depression

Supporting a spouse or partner with a mental health condition can be particularly draining. Changes to your relationship can include:
  • increased tension
  • decreased communication
  • reduced intimacy - both emotional and physical.
Your partner’s anxiety or depression might cause lower self-esteem and confidence. This might make them want to withdraw from you and other people. Libido can also be impacted by medication side-effects.

Over time, your relationship may change significantly. Many support people:
  • feel a sense of grief and loss – for the way their relationship used to be
  • struggle when the challenges of support become overwhelming
  • consider leaving the relationship
  • feel guilty for considering abandoning their partner in their time of need.
It’s important that you look after your own wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of your relationship. Individual or couples counselling can also be helpful.

Help a friend with anxiety or depression

It can be difficult to maintain a friendship at the same time as urging the person to get mental health support. When supporting a friend living with anxiety or depression you may:
  • struggle to find the right balance in your relationship
  • worry about upsetting the person you support, causing them to withdraw
  • feel isolated if you’re the only one person in the friendship group who knows about the problem.
It’s important to encourage your friend to seek support from others as well, such as from friends, family members or support groups. While you may feel privileged that your friend has opened up to you and is seeking your support, it can be difficult if they rely solely on you.
Iframe content loading...

Parents of children with anxiety or depression

Parents of children with anxiety or depression often feel guilty. You might feel like:
  • you’ve caused your child’s mental health condition
  • other people blame you for your child’s behaviour
  • you don’t give your child enough love and support.

Support your child to be independent

Your child needs space to develop personal coping or management strategies to help their recovery.

It can be challenging to support your child without becoming over-protective. You’re not alone - many parents find it hard to decide when to be there and when to step away.

Involving siblings and other family members

When you have other children it can be hard to treat everyone equally and not focus solely on the child experiencing anxiety or depression.

You may have to manage feelings of resentment that siblings may experience when the unwell child is seen to be given special treatment.

It can be helpful to:
  • discuss the situation openly within the family
  • educate everyone about the condition
  • talk about the importance of supporting each other as well as the child with anxiety or depression.

Supporting siblings

Having a brother or sister with a mental health condition can be disruptive to a sibling’s education, social life and sporting activities. Siblings of children with a mental health condition may:
  • worry they’ll become unwell too
  • feel embarrassed and self-conscious about their sibling’s situation
  • withdraw from the family and their sibling, particularly in school or social situations
  • feel frightened of triggering behaviour in their sibling
  • resent the attention their sibling receives.
Acknowledge that it can be difficult for siblings, too. Show you understand they might face their own challenges as a sibling of someone with a mental health condition. Let them know they can ask you questions and that it is OK for them to express a mixture of feelings about what is happening.

Siblings may also need support to manage the reactions of others in the community. The responses of friends and other people their age are very important, especially during teen years. Siblings may need support in explaining the condition to them.

For more information and resources for siblings of people with special needs, including disabilities, chronic illness and mental health conditions, visit: Siblings Australia.

Children of parents with anxiety or depression

Children of a parent with a mental health condition may find they have extra responsibilities around the home or in supporting their parent. In some cases, children may be the primary support person of a family member.

Children may worry about:
  • being embarrassed by their parent’s behaviour
  • having to do extra things to ensure the household runs smoothly
  • how to tell others or invite them into their life or home
  • whether they will also develop anxiety or depression when they’re older.
It’s important for young support people to tell a teacher, friend or other family member about what’s happening at home and to know that there is support out there for them.

For more information and resources for parents and young people, visit: Children of Parents with a Mental Illness (COPMI).

Look after your own mental health and wellbeing

It’s important to remember, when you take the first step in dealing with anxiety or depression, you’re not alone. Support is available for you, too.

Learn more: Look after your wellbeing while supporting someone else.

Resources to help you support someone with anxiety or depression

Get mental health support – free counselling, mental health coaching and online peer support community
Illustration of two people in a hot air balloon

Subscribe to receive info about mental health, keeping well and stories from our community.

Subscribe to newsletter