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How to Help Someone Through Depression

Discovering that a friend or family member is suffering with clinical depression can leave us feeling scared, worried and unsure of how to help.

Learning more about depression and its treatments can help you understand what your friend or family member is going through and how to best support them. Doing some research on the signs, symptoms and treatments of depression can also help you know what to look out for and how best to offer your support.

Identify Warning Signs of Depression

Have you noticed specific changes in your loved one’s behaviour? Have they shared much about their headspace or any physical symptoms? These are some of the common warning signs of depression to look out for and ask about:

  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • A decrease in appetite
  • Withdrawing from social activities and self-isolating
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Low energy levels
  • Unexplained physical aches and pains
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Your loved one may not be experiencing all of these symptoms but likely they will be facing several of them. If you don’t live with them, you may need to press them about what their daily experience currently looks like.

Check for Suicide Risk

When someone is having suicidal ideation it isn’t always obvious. The clear warning signs of suicide include talking about wanting to die, feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from activities, changes in mood, and changes in sleep patterns. But these warning signs may not always be present. Don’t be afraid to ask your friend/family member if they are having thoughts of suicide and if they have a plan. It is better to ask and feel uncomfortable than to avoid checking and risk losing that person.

Be aware also of physical changes in your loved one such as self-injury or substance abuse. If you recognize any of these signs, and they are new behaviours for that person, it is important to immediately seek professional help, connecting them to resources and support. Offer to research treatment options with them, or accompany them to their appointments if needed. There are a range of treatments and therapies available that can help with managing depression, so take some time to look into what might be the right option for them.

Offer Encouragement and Support

One of the biggest sources of strength for someone suffering with depression is the comfort and presence of a person who cares. Try to create a safe and supportive space for your loved one to express their feelings and experiences. Listen to what they have to say without judgement and let them know you are there for them.

Oftentimes a person suffering with depression will withdraw from relationships because they feel ashamed and don’t want to bring their friends and family down. They may see themselves as a burden and think you are better off without them. It is important to acknowledge those beliefs and let them know they are not a burden and you are here because you genuinely care.

Additionally, offer to help with practical tasks, like grocery shopping or running errands, to make their life a bit easier. Suggest activities that may help them to get out of the house and distract from their depression, such as going for a walk or going to a movie. Help them find resources in their community, such as support groups or therapy, and remind them of the importance of self-care. Encourage them to stick to a regular sleep schedule, exercise, and eat healthy meals.

Check in regularly to see how they are doing and remind them that you are always there for them. Let them know that you care and that you are willing to help them in any way you can.

Take Care of Your Own Needs

Depending on the closeness of your relationship with the person dealing with depression, supporting them through this mental illness can be challenging and at times exhausting. To be able to give to them and to show up regularly, you must fill your own tank so you aren’t running on empty. That may mean setting personal boundaries around how often you will check in, and being realistic about how much time you are able to give to that person. If your relationship is close, you may need your own therapy to help take care of yourself as you go through this with them.

Supporting someone with depression can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Taking the time to learn more about depression and offering your support can make a big difference in your loved one’s life.

Following is a list of resources that may help you and your loved one through this challenging time:

General services 

310-6789 – No area code – Toll free access to emotional support, information and resources for mental health. 

1-800-784-2433 – Suicide crisis line for those who are or know someone having thoughts of suicide. – list of resources from immediate support to non-crisis online and phone supports – Portal for finding and accessing supports and other resources. – Resources and self-help skills for dealing with depression  

Kids and Youth 

1-800-668-6868 – Kid’s Help Phone – access to professional counsellors. – Support for Youth age 12-24. Also offers virtual services through 1-833-308-6379. – online chat and phone services for Youth available from 12pm – 1am.