This is the third and final part in a series on mental health.

In 2017, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported depression as the leading cause of illness and disability worldwide. Currently, many experiencing depression do not get the treatment needed to lead healthy and productive lives due to a lack of support, as well as a fear of facing the stigma associated with having mental health problems. It’s time to provide the right support to those we care about and reduce the present stigma around these issues. However, it can be hard to know what to say or do to support someone experiencing depression. So, what entails providing the right support?

It’s time for us to just listen.

It’s tough to see someone we care about struggle with depression, and the desire to want to make things better can be strong. But now is not the time to give advice, lighten the mood by cracking jokes, or trying to solve their problems. A person experiencing depression doesn’t want to feel like someone is fixing them.

Author Stephen Covey noted that most people don’t listen with the intent to understand — they listen with the intent to reply. Listening to understand means genuinely trying to get a sense of what that person is going through and letting them know that you are there for them. Open-ended questions are ones to use in these conversations, experts say.

“What can I do to help you feel better?”

With that, however, individuals often need time to sort out how they are feeling and aren’t exactly ready to talk, and it’s important to avoid forcing them to engage. Instead, we should offer to give them space and check in later. When they are ready to share what’s happening with themselves, we must keep in mind that this means having many conversations as opposed to just a talk; and this is where we can be persistent and express concern and willingness to listen — that is, listen to understand — repeatedly.

“You don’t seem like yourself lately. Is everything okay?”

It’s time to recognize that depression is much more than feeling sad.

As discussed previously, depression is not something someone can just choose to snap out of. It can’t be stressed enough that depression does not mean character weakness, bad attitude, or laziness—depression is a disorder. The causes and presentation of depression are unique to different individuals. It’s time to actively inquire and learn about depression in better understanding what our loved ones are going through. Our biggest responsibility in this endeavour is avoiding judgements, shaming, or blaming them for what they are experiencing.

It’s time to encourage the person to get help.

While very serious and indeed able to worsen over time without treatment, depression is a treatable disorder with a high success rate for those who do seek help. In encouraging our loved ones, professionals recommend sharing what we have noticed about their mood and behaviour, and why we are concerned — here we can explain what we have learned about the symptoms of depression and consequent negative impacts. This is where we can suggest a check-up with a family physician to rule out any medical factors contributing to the depression, as well as help make a list of questions to ask and symptoms they’re experiencing, and even offer to go to the appointment with them.

It is also important to encourage a meeting with a mental health professional, either in the community or online. This may often be daunting, and offering to help find these services may ease the process. For many, it may not be financially feasible to speak with a counsellor, in which case online resources such as could be extremely helpful.

While supporting our friends or family members who are struggling, it can place a great deal of pressure on us if we feel we are alone. This is where we need to identify a support network and come together as a community in dealing with mental health and depression.

And we mustn’t forget about ourselves. Supporting someone with depression can certainly be overwhelming; factors like the severity of the depression, accessibility to treatment and other means of support, or even living with the individual can intensify the supporting experience. One cannot be a source of support if burned out. And so, knowing limits and setting boundaries around what we are willing and not willing to do is an integral part of the supporting process.

Lastly, it’s time to learn about the warning signs for suicide.

With a suicide epidemic on the rise, it is important to take the warning signs seriously. Three main categories of warning signs to look out for have been identified as the following:

Talking: Whether about death, suicide, harming oneself, expressing hopelessness and no reason to live, or feeling like a burden.

Behaviour: Increased use or misuse of alcohol or drugs, no longer taking care of oneself or following medical advice, withdrawing from activities once enjoyed, isolation from friends and family, sleeping too much or too little, giving away valuable possessions, and calling or visiting people to say goodbye.

Mood: Loss of interest in people and activities, anxiety, irritability, shame or humiliation, mood swings.

These warning signs must not be ignored, and connecting with someone that truly cares for them can mean the difference for an individual during these vulnerable times.

Research shows that talking about suicide does not increase the chance of someone killing themselves, so there is no worry in raising the topic of suicide.

The right support is letting our loved ones know they are not alone, that we care about them and will be there for them, and to give them space if they need it.

It’s time to be there.

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