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Self-help tips on coping with depression

If you struggle with depression, in addition to getting professional help, these are some self-help tips that you can put in place yourself.

When you’re feeling depressed, taking action can seem like an enormous amount of effort. However, it’s an important part of moving forward. This article will look at 5 ways that you can take action to help you cope better with depression.


Research has indicated that exercise has a positive effect in helping to deal with depression. Exercise helps to kick-start your body, and raises the levels of endorphins that help you to feel good. If you feel that you may not be fit or healthy enough to exercise, take it slowly at first, and check in with a health professional.

Find a type of exercise that you enjoy. It might be soccer, netball, running, walking, yoga, dancing, swimming or working out with weights at a gym. Find something that appeals to you, and keep at it.

Walking is one of the most accessible things that you can do, as it requires no equipment beyond some flat shoes and almost any level of fitness. Taking a walk around campus is a simple way to get started.

Get socially connected

Social interaction can be an important tool in overcoming depression. Try and organise to meet up face-to-face with friends or family, or even make a phone call. Although there may be minor things that you may not enjoy about meeting up with people (such as you are worried that your cousin will be patronising), getting socially connected is a useful way to help shift depression.

If you’re feeling socially isolated, you could join university clubs (take a look at Social & Academic or Sports clubs at Wits) or even mental health support groups, such as those offered at CCDU. Additionally there are groups offered by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). Online support groups may also be a helpful first step. If you need more help in this area, take a look at Tackling Social Isolation.

Create a depression self-care list

Caring for yourself and doing things that you enjoy is an important part of managing depression. Write down a collection of things that you enjoy, and pick one to do when you’re feeling down. You will have to create your own personal list, based on what you enjoy. Some possible options include:

  • Meet up with friends or family face-to-face
  • Spend time in nature (if you’re looking to see some nature on campus, try the Gavin Relly Green on West campus).
  • Watching a funny TV show or movie
  • Read a good book
  • Listen to uplifting music 
Eat a healthy diet

Eating a diet that is as healthy as you can manage can help to boost your mood. Even if your budget is very tight, you can make some changes to make sure that you are eating better.

  • Replace refined carbs (such as white bread) with healthier options (such as brown bread)
  • Swop junk food for healthier items (e.g. buy a banana or a yoghurt instead of a chocolate bar)
  • Include more fresh options such as fruit and vegetables
  • Avoid skipping meals

You don’t have to make these changes to your diet all the time, but try to make them most of the time. You can also visit Campus Health and Wellness Centre to discuss nutrition with a nurse.

Persist and get help

Depression takes time to shift, and self-help strategies will be hard work at first, so you’ll need to persist in your efforts. If you are struggling to get your depression to lift, then it is time to get professional help. Counselling and psychotherapy are available on campus, through CCDU. Should you require after hours services, you can telephonically contact the Wits Student Crisis Line on 0800111331. You can also approach a GP or psychiatrist to discuss anti-depressant medication. If you are already seeking help, then it’s important to persist with your treatment and your self-help. If you feel it isn’t working, chat to your healthcare professional to find out what else can be done.