Let’s Talk About Depression: How to Help Someone You Love
Your partner, family member or friend seems a little “off.” They are sad, never want to go anywhere, seem to be sleeping all the time and have no appetite. You thought it was a rough patch, but it’s been going on for weeks. While everyone experiences sadness, if feelings of hopelessness and despair are affecting day-to-day activities, there’s likely more to it. Depression is a serious, but treatable mood disorder that is thought to affect one in eight Canadians.
Helping someone with depression can be very difficult and frustrating, especially if you haven’t experienced it yourself. You may struggle to understand why your loved one can’t “snap out of it,” but when you are depressed, even getting out of bed can feel impossible. If you suspect someone you love is depressed, you can play a huge role in their recovery. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Know the Symptoms: People with depression often don’t realize or acknowledge they are unwell. They may not know the signs and symptoms and think their feelings are normal. Depression can be triggered by a traumatic event, or come on without any clear cause. Partners, family members or friends regularly notice the problem first and your support can motivate them to seek help. Being informed will also help you better appreciate what your loved one is going through. While depression looks very different from person to person, most experience some combination of these symptoms: sadness, emptiness and hopelessness; anger and irritability; guilt or dwelling on past events; loss of interest in the things they used to enjoy; withdrawing from friends and family; difficulty concentrating or making decisions; sleeping more or struggling to sleep; changes in appetite; slowed thinking, speaking or body movements; unexplained physical pain like backaches, headaches or stomach aches; and/or thoughts of death or suicide.
- Be Ready to Listen: Often, the best way to support someone struggling with depression is just to listen. Instead of trying to “fix” their symptoms and sharing your opinion, advice or judgements, use phrases like, “I am here for you,” “You are not alone,” and “I want to help.” Avoid minimizing comments like, “This is just a phase,” “Everyone feels this way sometimes,” or “The more you think about it, the worse you will feel.”
- Encourage Professional Help: The stigma around depression can cause people to dismiss their feelings and attempt treatment alone. Encourage your loved one to work with their doctor or mental health provider to come up with a plan. Self-care can also be a huge piece of healing. Healthy meals, lots of sleep and physical activity can significantly improve symptoms, in addition to therapy and medication.
- Make Plans Together: People with depression tend to isolate themselves, which only makes their illness worse. Ask your loved one to go for a walk, see a movie, or do something together that they used to enjoy. Try to make it easy to get out of the house by offering a ride or suggesting activities close to home. If your invites keep getting turned down, don’t feel discouraged. While it can feel like a losing battle, know that your persistence will pay off.
- Help with Tasks: When someone is depressed, everyday responsibilities can feel overwhelming. Suggest specific things you can help with or ask if there’s a job you can take on. Ideas include: offering a ride to and from appointments, doing the grocery shopping, cleaning the house or watching the kids.
- Check In: Regular visits, emails, texts and phone calls will remind your friend or family member that they are not alone and are important to you. They may struggle to find the energy to keep in contact, so don’t be offended if you feel like things are one-sided for a while. Point out the progress you do see like a clean house, a more active lifestyle, or a really fun day together. It can take months of treatment before you start to see real change, so keep your efforts going.
- Take Threats Seriously: People with depression are at an increased risk of suicide. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are considering self-harm or suicide. Take all signs of suicidal behaviour or threats seriously, act immediately and do not leave them alone. Get them to an emergency department or call 9-1-1.
Supporting a loved one with depression can be overwhelming, painful and exhausting. You won’t be able to help if you’re not in a good place yourself. Find time to stay connected to other people in your life, keep doing the things you enjoy, eat well, get enough sleep and stay active. Depression can also make someone uncharacteristically mean and self-centred, so set boundaries and don’t allow them to treat your badly.