According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. As prevalent as this illness is, however, it can be difficult to tell when someone you know is suffering from depression.

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usually-enjoyed activities
  • Change in weight or appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Decreased energy or fatigue (without significant physical exertion)
  • Thoughts of death
  • Poor concentration or difficulty making decisions

So, what can you say to someone who is struggling with depression, and what can you do to help?

The best approach is to say something to acknowledge their illness and show your support. Asking questions to clarify what they need, or what you can do to help, is a good way to show that you care.

Here are some things you can say to someone who you know or suspect is suffering from depression.

I’m here for you. People battling depression often feel isolated and alone with their feelings. Sometimes knowing that someone cares to listen and offer support goes a long way. Although they may not feel like talking at first, knowing that they have someone to talk to, can make a difference in their mood.

How can I help? Different people cope with depression differently, depending on the severity of their illness, social support and how educated they are about the illness. Give your friend the chance to let you know what it is they need from you to help them get through this challenging time. For some, getting them in touch with professional help may be the best place to start. If they have already been to see their doctor or a counselor, sometimes helping them navigate through everyday chores is what they need. Don’t assume you have the answers - ask. But remember, your role of support is not to diagnose their illness nor solve all of their problems.

You are important to me. Many people suffering from depression experience feelings of low self-worth and have low self-esteem. They often feel like a burden on others and may feel useless because they are unable to function properly when suffering from depression. Let them know that they matter and are important to you. They need the positive reinforcement to help them counter their own negative thoughts.

You won’t always feel this way. Depression is an illness that can consume your mind, body and soul. It can be difficult sometimes for depressed people to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and realize that they will not always feel depressed. Regular affirmation that there is hope for them, and that they won’t always feel so bad, is important to help them keep fighting the illness and not give up.

There are times when well-meaning words or actions are not enough to help. If someone you know has expressed thoughts of suicide and indicates that they have a plan to carry out those thoughts, please make sure you get them help from a trained professional, immediately. Don't leave the person alone and call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room yourself. Make sure you contact friends and family members to let them know, and encourage the person to call a suicide hotline or crisis centre, if waiting for help to arrive.