Authored by: Sean King & Darlene Cyrus-Blaize, Ed.D., RP
Listen to the audio blog here, or continue to read below.
In Canada, research shows that 16% of women and 11% of men experience depression at some point in their lives. Consequently, at some point, you may find yourself concerned with the health of a family or friend’s mental and emotional well-being. In this article, we will discuss how to recognize depression, and how to be supportive to someone who is depressed.
Registered Psychotherapist and Focus Mental Wellness Therapist Pamela Zuker, explains that while clinical depression can only be diagnosed by a Psychiatrist, Family Doctor, or Psychologist, Canadians should have the information needed to recognize and support a loved one experiencing depression. While the signs and symptoms of depression vary from person to person, the following are some common signs of depression:
- Feeling sad or down most days
- lack of interest in activities typically enjoyed
- decreased energy or fatigue
- feelings of worthlessness
- weight and sleep changes
- difficulty focusing
- lack of motivation
- Using substances to cope with their feelings
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Being frequently irritable and/or angry
Recognizing that a loved one may be experiencing depression can leave us wondering, How do I help?
How to Support Someone with Depression
For starters, learning about depression could help you better understand what your loved one is going through. It can also help with understanding that depression is not something that can be controlled by willpower; you cannot just “snap out” of depression.
When someone is coping with depression, they often feel like they are the problem. The reality is depression is not a personal failing. It’s an illness that could affect anyone. It’s also important to learn that the contributing factors for depression can vary from financial challenges to personal loss, brain chemistry, and/or hormonal changes.
Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of your presence! Just reaching out via text or phone call, or showing up on a visit to check in with them, are great ways to demonstrate that they are cared for and loved!
Initiate the Conversation
Another important way you can help is by offering a safe non-judgemental space for your loved one to share what they have been feeling and experiencing. You can open up the conversation by first highlighting your observations and then inviting them to share, for example, you may say:
- I noticed that you haven’t been answering any of my phone calls lately, and I am concerned about you…how have you been?
- During our last few conversations, I’ve noticed that you have been sad and down, Do you want to talk about it?
Validate Their Feelings
It may be tempting to cheer up your loved one or offer advice but at this phase, it’s important to simply listen and acknowledge their feelings. Pamela Zuker, RP notes that it is important to be understanding and reassuring as depression can distort an individual’s perception of themselves, the world, and others, and they may feel hopeless. So while you may not agree with the views being shared by your loved one, refrain from saying things like “ But you have a lot of good things going on for you right now” “but you have it made.” Rather than creating hope, such statements can be viewed as dismissive and invalidating. Remember, it’s ok to not be ok! So instead you may want to validate their feelings by saying:
- Such thoughts/feelings are difficult to have and I’m sorry to hear that you have been hurting in this way.
- I’m here and would like to help in any way that I can
Depression can make daily life difficult and tiring, both mentally and physically. Often this leads to a struggle with routine parts of their daily lives that you may be able to help with.
Offer to Help
Don’t be afraid to ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Offering specific suggestions of things you could do to support them may also help as it could allow your friend or loved one to feel more comfortable and reassure them that they are not burdening you.
Christina Ramdhin, Registered Psychotherapist and Focus Mental Wellness Therapist notes that “if a loved one is struggling, try asking how you can specifically support them if they’re in a ‘rough patch’. For example, if they’re finding it hard to stay motivated to make meals and eat regularly, perhaps ask: ‘Would you like me to bring over your favourite dish? I made extra and would like to pop by‘, as opposed to ‘Let me know if you need anything…’” Additionally, you can offer to pick up groceries, prepare a meal or tackle some housework.
But remember just as with offering to “talk about things”, your friend or loved one may not feel immediately comfortable with your offers of assistance. So don’t force your offer of help on them, but make sure they know that you’re willing to support them.
Seek Professional Help
An aspect of support can involve connecting them with a trained health professional, who is knowledgeable in treating depression. Traditionally speaking, the first step in receiving treatment for depression is to visit a doctor.
Seeking help from a doctor allows individuals with depression to talk through their options, including different types of therapy and medication.
In recent years, new services have emerged that allow people to seek therapy for depression on their own. This process can be as simple as submitting an online form and allowing services like Focus Mental Wellness to allow you to select your ideal licensed therapist.
Create a Support Plan
Registered Social Worker and Focus Mental Wellness Therapist, Milena Urbanjac notes that a support or coping plan can be created. She explains that “a support plan can be shared with that person’s circle of care or support network, and it can outline what it looks like when a person is struggling, what is helpful and what is not helpful when in a time of crisis, coping strategies, as well as support people and outside resources to access when they are struggling.”
As Ms. Urbanjac highlights, it is not uncommon for individuals struggling with depression to experience times of crisis consequently you will also want to check in with your loved one for signs of suicidal ideation because when left untreated depression can potentially lead to suicidal thoughts. There are warning signs of suicide that you can look out for and ways you can help.
If your friend or loved one is talking about suicide or displaying other warning signs, let them know you care and try to connect them with a professional trained in suicide prevention. You can also direct them to the following resources:
Don’t Forget Your Own Mental Health
Supporting a loved one with depression can potentially take a toll on your own mental and emotional well being and so it is critical for you to also take care of yourself and set boundaries.
“It is very important to continue to take care of yourself because taking care of yourself will ensure that you will be able to stay on top of your own wellness as well as be a support to your loved one if needed” shares Ms. Urbanajc. Ultimately, your ability to help diminishes if you are not in a good place! Remember, it is completely ok to take a break from the situation to take care of you too if it’s taking a toll!
We’re here to help
Focus Mental Wellness helps Canadians match and connect with licensed therapists online across Canada. We are here to offer support to you and/or your loved one.
Lastly, remember that people can recover from depression. Reassuringly, Ms. Zuker highlights that “with time and treatment people do feel better again” and your loved one can too!
Book an appointment today to see how Focus can support with depression, anxiety, stress, and many more mental health challenges. Live better with Focus.