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Supporting someone experiencing depression

Drawing of a man brooming inside an head

The verb “to support” says it well: to support someone to prevent them from falling.

What is depression and what are its forms? What are the symptoms that you need to be aware of? How can you support a person throughout the process?

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What is depression?

Depression is a complex disorder that affects the sufferer both physically and psychologically. Most people experience feelings of joy or sadness on a daily basis. However, a person experiencing depression will have more difficulty controlling their emotions and will experience negative emotions more intensely and for a longer period of time. In many cases, someone suffering from depression will find it difficult to carry out daily tasks, such as work, family and social obligations.

There are different forms of depression: major, seasonal, postpartum, dysthmia and depression that occurs in episodes in people who have bipolar disorders.

According to the Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Montréal, 15 to 20% of Canadians are affected by depression at least once in their lifetime.

Are you concerned about the behaviour of the person you are caring for?

You notice:

  • fatigue, lack of energy or intense agitation;
  • sleep disturbance;
  • change in appetite affecting weight;
  • decreased sexual interest;
  • headaches, back pain or stomach pain;
  • extreme sadness, feelings of failure, decreased self-esteem;
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions;
  • suicidal thoughts.

You may also notice alcohol use, forms of anxiety, and variations between which may be a manifestation of bipolar disorder.

If you notice that some of these issues persist, you should consult a physician or contact your local mental health access point.

10 tips for dealing with depression

These tips are adapted from those presented in this text (in French only) from the Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec and this article from Relief.

  1. Empower the person you are caring for in their recovery process;
  2. Provide some basic suggestions that can be used as a guide for empowerment: eat well, get enough sleep, get out every day, enjoy the sunshine, keep active, choose a few people close to you to confide in, get cardiovascular exercise at least three times a week for 30 minutes, avoid alcohol. They will decide which points to implement;
  3. Set limits by agreeing on the support you provide (duration, intensity, frequency) and review together regularly;
  4. Communicate with the person you are caring for;
  5. Express yourself as “I”;
  6. Actively listen to the person you are caring for;
  7. Focus on what is going well, encourage the person you are caring for to be aware of and develop gratitude for what is going well;
  8. Acknowledge their progress;
  9. In your communications, encourage the person you are caring for to reduce expectations of themself. When depressed, we accomplish less. It’s temporary, you have to be indulgent towards yourself.
  10. If you haven’t already done so, encourage the person you are caring for to consult their doctor or contact the mental health access point in your area.


Depression is treated by recognized methods, most often by psychotherapy, sometimes combined with antidepressant medication. The process can be long, both for the therapy and for the medication, since it can take several weeks before the person feels the first effects of the antidepressants. It is important to be patient and to seek treatment and services:

Helping someone you are caring for who is having suicidal thoughts

In most cases, someone contemplating suicide leaves clues as to their intent through:

  • direct and indirect messages: the person talks about their intent to commit suicide by talking about death, feeling sick or out of breath;
  • attitude and various behavioral changes
  • emotional indicators: general disinterest, loss of desire, great sadness, aggressiveness, discouragement, conflicting and changing emotions, mood swings or anxiety
  • cognitive signs: difficulty concentrating or making decisions, confusion of speech, loss of motivation or memory loss.

If you recognize these warning signs in the person you are caring for, call the Association québécoise de prévention du suicide (in French only) hotline, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across Québec: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553). If there is an immediate danger, call 911.

Questions and possible solutions

The person I am caring for suffers from depression. Am I a caregiver?

If you are caring for that person, even if you don’t live with them, the answer is yes. Read the definition of a caregiver.

How do I know my limitations?

Setting boundaries with the person you are caring for is a lot of work, and the compassion you feel can hinder your efforts and sometimes lead to burnout or psychological distress.

A group of mental health organizations has developed a list of rights you can give yourself to care for yourself. Reading it will help you identify the boundaries of your assistance and support and will have a positive effect on you. At l’Appui pour les proches aidants, we really like number 11 on the list: “the right to add my own statements of rights to this list, based on my own situation, feelings and experience.”

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