People with depression often frustrate and alienate those around them. Not surprisingly, family members and friends often are unclear as to what they can do to help someone who is depressed.

It is important to realize that depression is a serious illness and most people who experience it will require medical treatment. Depression can be successfully managed; hence, it is important for people with depressive illness to see their doctor as early as possible.

If someone you love is suffering from depression, the most important thing you can do is help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment. This may require that you make a doctor's appointment on their behalf and go with them to the appointment.

The following do's and don'ts may also be useful in helping a friend or relative who is depressed:

Do: Remind yourself that the depressed person is ill, and they are not purposefully alienating or frustrating you.

Do: Encourage the depressed individual to seek treatment with their physician and suggest they consider referral to a psychiatrist.

Do: Provide reassurance that depression is a treatable illness. Help the depressed person stick to prescribed treatments and arrange visits to their health care provider to monitor for improvement. Attend appointments with them if necessary.

Do: Help the depressed person continue to eat and drink adequately, particularly if their appetite is decreased. If necessary, encourage the depressed person to limit use of caffeine, alcohol, and street drugs. You may need the advice of a professional to help with this.

Do: Spend time with someone who is depressed. Social support improves treatment outcome in many serious illnesses, including depression. Be a good listener.

Do: Support the development of good sleep patterns. Many people who suffer from depression have disrupted sleep patterns, which can make symptoms worse. If you can help to encourage good sleep hygiene, it may be beneficial.

Do: Recognize that caring for someone with depression is not easy. Learn more about the illness and the organizations that can help those living with a depressed person. Continue to make time for yourself and to pursue hobbies, family, and social connections. If necessary, obtain professional counselling.

Don't: Never ignore comments about suicide. If a depressed person begins to talk about not wanting to live or expresses suicidal thoughts, take these statements seriously and insist that their doctor be informed. Call 9-1-1 or seek emergency help if you think the person is going to harm themselves or others.

Don't: Feel you have to apologize to others for a depressed person's lack of interest or responsiveness to their social invitations. If the person is comfortable with other people knowing about their illness, do explain the presence of the depressive illness and its temporary negative impact on the person's social skills.

Don't: Feel guilty that a depressed person's illness is your fault.