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The Power of Presence: How to Support Someone with Depression



Supporting someone with depression can be challenging, but your understanding and comfort can make a big difference in their journey towards feeling better. Whether the person struggling is a friend, family member, or partner, knowing how to offer the right support is crucial! The more you learn about depression, how to approach conversations, provide emotional support, and encourage professional help, the better you can help someone in need. 


 

Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Depression


Depression can look different in each person, but here are some symptoms to look out for:


  • Feeling sad, empty, or hopeless

  • Getting mad or frustrated easily, even about small things

  • Losing interest in things that you once enjoyed (e.g., hobbies, sports, etc.)

  • Sleeping too much or not enough

  • Feeling tired and having no energy (even small tasks feel hard)

  • Eating less and losing weight or eating more and gaining weight

  • Having aches and pains not caused by anything (e.g., back pain, headaches, etc.)

  • Feeling anxious, restless, or nervous

  • Feeling worthless or guilty (e.g., focusing on mistakes from the past, or blaming yourself for things that are not your fault, etc.)

  • Having trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things

  • Having thoughts of suicide or harming yourself


For many people with depression, these symptoms can make it hard to do daily activities. In addition, depression can also affect someone’s social activities and relationships with others. Some people might feel unhappy without having a reason to or without knowing why. Children and teens might show depression by being more cranky instead of being sad. 


 

Encourage People to Get Help


Some people with depression might not be aware that they are depressed. They might not know the signs or symptoms, so they might believe that what they are feeling is normal. Other times, people with depression can be embarrassed about having it. They might think that they are supposed to just feel better on their own, but depression usually does not get better without help and it can actually just get worse. However, with the right help and treatment, it can get better!


Here is how you can help someone who might be dealing with depression:


  • Talk to the person about what you have noticed and talk about why you are worried

  • Explain that depression is a health problem, not a weakness, and that it often gets better with the right treatment

  • Suggest seeking help from a doctor or a mental health professional, like a counsellor or a psychologist

  • Offer to prepare questions that they can ask at their first appointment

  • Show your support by helping to set up their appointments, going with them, and possibly joining family therapy sessions


On the topic of encouraging someone to get help, one treatment for depression is psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy.” Psychotherapy can help someone change how they think and how they act so that they can feel better. There are also different types of therapy, such as family therapy, couples therapy, and group therapy. Treatment with psychotherapy generally depends on the severity of someone’s depression.


If a person’s depression is severe or they are in danger, contact a doctor, mental health professional, or emergency medical services. 


 

Watch for the Warning Signs of Worsening Depression


Depression looks different for everyone, but you can learn how it affects the person by watching them and knowing what to do when it gets worse. 


Think about these problems:


  • What are the usual signs of depression?

  • What behaviours or words do you see when this person’s depression is worse?

  • What behaviours or words do you see when this person is feeling better?

  • What makes this person’s depression worse?

  • What activities help this person when their depression gets worse?


When someone’s depression gets worse, it is best to help them right away. Encourage the person to talk to a doctor or mental health professional to make a plan for what to do when their symptoms get bad. This plan should also include who to contact for help. Sometimes, the doctor may need to prescribe, adjust, change medications or suggest other (additional) treatments. 


 

Understanding the Risk of Suicide


People with depression are at a higher risk of suicide. If someone is very depressed, they might think about suicide. Take all signs of suicidal behaviour seriously and act right away.


Here is what you can do:


  • Tell the person why you are worried. Ask the person if they are thinking about suicide or have a plan to do it. Having a plan means that they are more likely to try.

  • Get help. Contact the person’s doctor, mental health provider, or another health professional. Let other family members and close friends know what is going on.

  • Contact a suicide hotline. Ask for advice and find out what resources are available in your area. You can also encourage the person to call a hotline for counselling.

  • In the U.S. and Canada, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. This is available 24 hours a day, every day. Services are free and private. 

  • Make sure the person is safe. If possible, remove or lock up things that could be used for suicide, like weapons and medicines. 

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number right away if the person could hurt themselves or attempt suicide. Make sure someone stays with the person at all times. 


 

Stay Alert for Warning Signs of Suicide


Learn about and watch out for common warning signs of suicide or suicidal thoughts:


  • Talking about suicide. Saying things like “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”

  • Getting things to attempt suicide, like buying a weapon or collecting pills.

  • Pulling away from friends and family, wanting to be alone.

  • Having mood swings, like feeling very happy one day and very sad/irritable the next.

  • Thinking a lot about death, dying, or violence.

  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation.

  • Using more alcohol or drugs.

  • Changing daily routines, like eating or sleeping patterns.

  • Doing risky or harmful things, like using drugs or driving dangerously.

  • Giving away belongings or getting things in order for no clear reason.

  • Saying goodbye to people as if they will not be seen again. 

  • Having personality changes or being very anxious or upset, especially with some of the signs listed above.


 

Show Support


Remember that depression is not anyone’s fault. You cannot fix someone’s depression, but your support and your understanding can help!


You can:


  • Encourage Treatment: If someone is getting treatment for depression, you can help them remember to take their medicine and go to their appointments. 

  • Listen: Let the person know that you care about how they feel. When they want to talk, you can listen carefully without giving opinions or judging them. Just listening to them can help a lot. 

  • Give Positive Feedback: People with depression may think badly of themselves. Remind them of their good qualities. 

  • Offer Help: The person may struggle with daily tasks. You can offer to help them with specific tasks and you can ask to take on a particular chore. 

  • Reduce Stress: Having a routine can help someone with depression feel more in control. Offer to make a schedule for meals, medicine, exercise, social time, and sleep. You can also help organize household chores.

  • Find Support Groups: Many organizations offer support groups, counselling, and other services for depression. 

  • Encourage Faith: If faith is a part of their life, you can encourage them to take an active part. For many people, faith can help in recovering from depression, whether through a religious community or through personal spiritual practices.

  • Promote Self-Care: Urge the person to eat healthier meals, get enough sleep, and be physically active.

  • Make Plans Together: Ask them to join you for a walk, see a movie, or do a hobby that they used to enjoy, but do not force them into doing something that they do not want to do.


 

Remember to Take Care of Yourself


To avoid getting burnt out: 


  • Ask for Help: Taking care of someone with depression can be hard. You can ask other family members or close friends to help. Let them know what you need. 

  • Stay Healthy: Make time for yourself. Stay active, spend time with your loved ones, and do things that you enjoy and things that make you feel good.

  • Be Patient: Depression symptoms get better with treatment, but it can often take time. Finding the right treatment may mean trying different medicines or approaches. Some people can feel better more quickly than others. 


 

In conclusion, supporting someone with depression requires lots of patience, understanding, and a willingness to listen. By educating yourself about depression and its symptoms, and offering your unwavering support, you can make a really meaningful difference in someone’s journey toward healing. While you cannot exactly “fix” someone’s depression, your empathy and compassion can be powerful tools in helping them feel more understood and supported. Together, we can break the stigma surrounding mental health and we can create a more compassionate and supportive community. 


 

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