Barry Du Bois Reveals What It's Really Like To Help Someone With Depression

"My mate taking responsibility to ask that question is what got me through that tough time."

Image Credit: The Daily Telegraph

There’s no quick fix to depression. Which makes even the most well-intentioned listicles useless.

But that’s not to say it’s a problem that can’t be tackled.

As Channel 10’s The Living Room host, home-design expert, and R U Ok? ambassador Barry du Bois attests—simple as it sounds—just asking your mates how they’re going, offering your support, and sharing your own insecurities can help them feel less alone.

Although he acted confident on the outside, Barry tells us that for years he was “really dark.” Until one day, a friend asked if he was ok.

“It was that conversation,” he tells us, “That got me talking about it and admitting that I didn’t feel as happy about life as I should have.”

When he retired in 2006, Barry’s life appeared a source of envy: “My business career was amazing, I was making loads of money, I had loads of friends… I was confident, robust; the sort of guy a lot of people wanted to be.”

“But inside I was scared stiff—I’m 6’2″ and a pretty fit guy, but when I was out in public I felt really small.”

Behind his strong persona, Barry tells us, “I convinced myself that everybody would be better off if I wasn’t around, because I was having terrible thoughts about life.”

“I told my wife I didn’t love her when I loved her dearly. I was trying to make people reject me.”

But eventually, he was asked, ‘Are you ok?’ by a friend, who Barry tells us, “Followed up and engaged in the conversation—after giving me a sense of security by asking that question—and that’s when I started to come out of the depression.”

Not that this was an overnight change. As Baz reminds us: just as it can take years to drift into depression, it can take “months and years” to come out of it, too.

“It’s not like I healed overnight, what happened was I just started to talk more—and after I had that very first conversation every discussion helped—so I was keen to have further chats and also to ask how my friends were going as well.”

“They were quite happy to admit life was tough sometimes; and that it made it easier for me to admit it as well.”

It was 18 months to 2 years Barry before got back to a healthy mental state. And although he can’t explain exactly why he became depressed in the first place, he tells us how, “I’d lost my mum to cancer, my wife had cancer and I’d had a bad fall a few years before (becoming depressed).”

Since then, Barry has gone through some tough times with cancer himself, and believes that what he learned in overcoming his depression (now almost a decade ago) has “helped him greatly” to deal with his latest diagnosis.

“I can’t say strongly enough how important that self belief and understanding of myself helped me to maintain a real sense of positivity through my treatment—and for life in general,” he says.

“There’s no return for investment in negativity; but there are great dividends in an investment in happiness or positivity.”

As an example, he says, “If you say, ‘this is a sh*t life,’ there isn’t going to be a return in that. But if I smile at you or say thank you, I’ll probably get a little smile or a ‘thank you’ back—which is an investment.”

According to him, “This is the beautiful thing about the R U Ok? movement—we don’t leave the onus on the person who’s struggling: it’s up to everybody to check in with their friends and then really listen to their answers.”

“Let them know if you sense they’re saying there’s something wrong, and let them know that if they can’t handle it—you’re there to help them.”

“Most importantly, Barry adds, “Follow up on that conversation, because if more of us did that; the people that are depressed would be more inclined to ask for help.”

By way of explanation, Barry reveals that, “When I was depressed there was no chance I was going to ask for help; that would just have made me feel even weaker.”

“To add another layer of responsibility to (a depressed person) is just going to make life harder.”

This is why, Barry reiterates, “My mate taking responsibility to ask that question is what got me through that tough time.”

Also, he says, be wary of giving advice: “When I was depressed, everybody gave me all this advice on books, tablets, health and fitness, and all those things can no doubt be great—but when you mentally feel weak or insignificant, someone telling you what do just amplifies how weak you feel.”

“When I was depressed I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, I thought there was something wrong with everybody else and I just didn’t fit in—blaming everybody from the government to my wife for my problems.”

So what does this mean for concerned friends? Keep it simple, while showing you care.

  • Don’t always try and give a depressed (or potentially depressed) friend advice
  • Ask them a question
  • Listen to them
  • Follow up

Also, he points out, helping a mate overcome an irrational train of thought is rarely achieved by pointing out the inconsistencies in what they are saying.

Instead, Barry says, listen, empathise, and choose one of their problems to help with: “They’re depressed, so what you’ve got to do is help them get some of that stuff out.

“What you need to do is listen and say, ‘I can hear you’ve got a problem: is this something you can handle, or do you need me to help you?'”

“If you try to rationalise to them when they’re venting, all you’re doing is putting up barriers,” Barry says. But if you empathise and offer to help, “That will simmer down an irrational thought.”

And although you may be tempted to recommend a self help book or podcast, Barry warns that this can give the wrong impression.

“If you say to a depressed person, ‘You’re depressed; you wanna read this book;’ you’re not helping them at all—you’re just saying, ‘I recognise there’s something wrong with you and I can’t help you—but maybe you can help yourself if you read this book.'”

Instead, follow the strategies outlined above, ask questions, invest time in them, and show that you really care—via your actions.

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