How do I support someone?
Accept their condition.
Depression is not simply a “bad mood” or a passing case of “the blues.” Depression is a serious medical condition that affects not only the individual, but everyone who cares about them.
Start a conversation. Show compassion.
Demonstrate your support.
- “I may not really understand what you’re going through, but I am here to support and listen to you.”
- “I’m worried about you. “Have you considered reaching out to a mental health professional for additional support?”
- “You are not alone. Many people suffer from depression. It is nothing to be ashamed of.”
- “Depression can be treated. Getting help is the best thing you can do.”
- “Most people get better with treatment, even with severe depression.”
Be there to help.
- “What can I do to help?”
- “I would like to do what I can to help you figure out what is going on. I can go with you to your doctor’s appointment”
- “Call or text me if you need support or you just want to talk”
Finding out more about depression through high quality evidence-based resources such as this toolkit may help you better understand what they’re experiencing, why it’s happening, and how to help.
Cultivate a “we’re in this together” attitude.
The presence of depression can feel isolating. Fostering a partnership confirms that you intend to work together to overcome the obstacles ahead.
Getting a depressed person into treatment can be difficult-- they may believe their situation is hopeless or cannot be improved by professional treatment. Offer to go with them to health care appointments and help them prepare by putting together a list of questions. Help them stick with their prescribed treatment plan.
Do not blame the person who is depressed, or yourself.
Nobody – not the person with depression nor his/her spouse, parents or children – is responsible for the occurrence of depression.
Discuss, plan, and execute an action plan.
Talk with the person who is depressed about things you might do together. Taking a walk, doing yoga, or seeing a movie together can inspire them to get through bad days and provide a needed respite for everyone involved.
Take immediate action when needed.
If your friend or loved one is suicidal or very ill, you may need to accompany him/her to emergency room.
How do I support my partner?
Show them love and support.
People with depression often forget that they have support around them. When your partner is going through a low period, show them extra love. This may feel especially difficult to do when they seem disconnected from you or are taking their feelings out on you, but it’s during these times that they need your love the most. Even if they don’t reciprocate your love, do your best to step back and see the bigger picture of your relationship and remind them of your support.
Know when to give them space.
Sometimes your partner needs the space to be alone, yet the security that you’re not going anywhere. Give them space when they need it, but stay nearby.
Understand what they truly need.
Talk to your partner and ask them what they need. Or think of things that bring them joy and offer them during these times.
How do I support my child?
Maintain a schedule and stay active together.
Your child may not enjoy activities in the same way as before, but it’s important to encourage him/her to continue participating in his/her favorite activities and hobbies, even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time. Keep your child on a consistent schedule and make sure he/she eats well, gets enough sleep, and exercises daily. These all have positive effects on mood.
Help your child understand their emotions.
Your child may not fully understand the emotions they are experiencing. Pay attention to the feelings you see and name them. This will teach your child to recognize their feelings better. For example, when your child does not appear to be in a depressed state you might say, “I noticed that you looked sad and quickly left the room when I mentioned your upcoming school project. Am I right? I know school has been tough lately and I understand your sadness.” After labeling and validating your child’s emotions several times, you can move to helping your child problem-solve. “When you feel sad again about school, what could we do to help that?” You can help your child generate possible solutions. Provide some relaxed opportunities, like taking a walk or preparing a meal together, that encourage your child to open up and talk to you.
As your child develops and matures, his or her health needs will change and new treatments and therapies may become available. Do your best to stay up-to-date on new developments that may help your child’s condition. You may also find it helpful to speak with other families who have a child with depression.
Be your child's advocate in the school system.
Find out if anyone noticed changes in your child’s behavior and mood. Discussing his/her challenges with the school’s counselors and his/her teachers may change the way they interact with your child, which can positively impact his/her self-esteem and success at school. In collaboration with your child’s mental health providers, discuss school-based accommodations that can be implemented to better support your child.
Be your child’s advocate in the healthcare system.
Make sure your child sees a mental health professional who follows evidence-based practices for childhood depression, is compassionate and really listens to you and your child. Ensure that your child goes to his/her scheduled appointments and follows through on treatment recommendations, especially home-based therapy assignments.
Find out more about how to support your child
How do I support my adult child?
Even when your child is over the age of 18, it is important to continue supporting them through their mental illness journey.
However, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) presents a dilemma for parents of individuals with mental illnesses. HIPAA is a federal privacy law that restricts what health information family members can find out about their loved one. This can be especially difficult when your loved one refuses to share details about their treatment. This may completely shut out of the conversation and leave you feeling hopeless.
Even without access to your child’s health information, you can follow the tips noted above to support them. In addition, you can:
Stay in touch.
The more you offer to help, the more your child may push you away. But maintaining contact will keep your child feeling supported, loved, and safe.
Get support from other family members going through the same ordeal.
Contact your local mental health group for family support groups. Knowing that you are not alone in this journey can be life saving. And you may find you are more on track that you realize.
How do I support my family?
When you have a child with mental illness, it is easy to let your concern for them grow to consume your life. Here are some things to remember:
Take care of yourself
While it is your responsibility to care for and support your child, it is also your responsibility to take care of yourself. You may have to adjust your priorities or your lifestyle, but you should avoid letting the challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition make you neglect other important parts of your life.
In some cases, the stress of raising a child with a mental illness can contribute to the experience of mental health challenges by a parent. If you begin to feel that you are struggling with sadness or anxiety, do not hesitate to seek treatment for yourself. Caring for your own mental well-being will serve as a model for your child to follow, and ensure that you are healthy and able to care for your child.
Take care of your family
Remember that if you have other children, they may resent being pushed to the side if all the attention is placed on their sibling’s mental health challenges. Make sure that they understand what their sibling is going through, and that you spend time with each of them. Keeping a happy and balanced family can be very helpful in reducing stress levels for everyone, which can help alleviate symptoms of mental illness.
Get your family involved
If you live with a partner or spouse, or have other children, try to get them involved in being an advocate for your child. You may find that you deal with challenges and obstacles differently than them, but you should find ways to combine strengths to overcome any weaknesses. Be ready to compromise, listen and be open to new ideas.
It is possible you may discover that some members of your family have little interest in supporting you and your child in dealing with challenges posed by your child’s mental health condition. It is also possible that a spouse or significant other may be a negative influence on your child. They may demand discipline for behaviors your child cannot control, deny that there is anything wrong or insist upon an irrational course of action.
Helping to raise a child who has a mental health condition can be stressful, and it is unrealistic to assume that anyone, yourself included, will always react in an ideal way. However, you must also realize that it is your responsibility to protect your child, even from others that you care about.
How do I support my co-worker?
Understand the importance of a mentally healthy workplace.
A mentally healthy workplace promotes staff wellbeing and creates a positive workplace culture, is open to individuals’ needs, and is one in which employees and managers are flexible and supportive of each other. A mentally health workplace supports staff with a mental health condition and prevents discrimination.
Start a conversation.
If you're concerned about a colleague, approach them and ask how they’re feeling or what’s on their mind. Find somewhere private where the person will feel comfortable talking with you. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to say. Just being supportive and listening can make a real difference.
Remember that mental health information is highly confidential and sensitive. Reassure the person that you’ll respect their privacy.
Lend a hand.
Ask what you can do to help. For example, would they like to chat after work, grab a coffee? Perhaps they need some help with tasks at home?
Refer them to resources.
Find out what mental health resources are available within your workplace and share them with your colleague. If you work in a larger organization, check to see if it offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or something similar.
How do I support my employee?
Create a mentally healthy workplace.
- Be proactive by promoting wellbeing for all staff and creating a supportive workplace where people feel able to talk openly. Craft a Business Action Plan(link is external)(link is external).
- Raise awareness of mental health conditions and reduce stigma
- Tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems (e.g. poor support, work relationship problems). Here(link is external)are some examples of how to do this.
- Support staff who are experiencing mental health problems - If someone is depressed, they may need some adjustments to accommodate them (e.g. flexible hours, change of workspace
Start a conversation.
If you're concerned about an employee, approach them and ask how they’re feeling or what’s on their mind. Find somewhere private where the person will feel comfortable. It’s okay if you don’t know exactly what to say. Just being supportive and listening can make a real difference.
Avoid making assumptions.
Don’t try to guess what symptoms an employee might have and how these might affect their ability to do their job – many people are able to manage their condition and perform their role to a high standard.
Remember mental health information is highly confidential and sensitive.
Adapt to the situation.
Mental health problems affect everyone differently, so you should adapt your support to each person. Developing a personalized action plan with your employee on how to address the situation can help.
Refer them to resources.
Find out what mental health resources are available within your workplace and share them with your employee. If you work in a larger organization, check to see if it offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). You may also consider promoting resources that give your employees guidance on what to do if they’re worried about a colleague.
How do I support myself as a caregiver?
Before you can care for someone else, you need to take care of yourself.
Keep doing what you love.
Make sure you take the time to participate in enjoyable activities and continue to work towards your own goals. This will help you stay happy and healthy so you are best able to support yourself and the person in your life with depression.
Use coping strategies.
Check out some coping and self-help strategies here.
Reach out for support.
Note that it is understandable and normal for caregivers to feel frustrated and even angry. That is why talking to people you trust can be or sharing with others in a similar situation through support groups can be very affirming. You can join a support group specifically for the friends, family, and caregivers of people struggling with depression. This will enable you to connect with others who are going through similar situations. You may also consider seeking out professional counseling for additional support if needed.
Speak up for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to communicate honestly with your loved one, friend, or co-worker about how you’re feeling in order to avoid resentment. This will strengthen your relationship and allow you to work through your feelings together throughout the recovery period.
You can only do so much to help and you can’t be there for someone at every moment of the day. To avoid burnout, set clear boundaries on what you’re willing and able to do. This may include making time to be alone or socialize with others.