Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.
One of the strongest people we know stood on the We Day stage in Vancouver recently and told a stadium packed with people that she had suffered from depression. Canadian rowing legend Silken Laumann came back from a shattered leg to win an Olympic medal in just 10 weeks in 1992. But "coming out" about her own depression was a challenge, too, given the stigma that still surrounds mental illness.
One in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, and half of those will have clinical depression. Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates that 230,000 people in Ontario, alone considered taking their own life in 2013.
Mental health is a complex and uncomfortable topic to broach with even our closest friends and relatives. From noticing symptoms and gently encouraging professional help, to providing support for those with a diagnosis, many of us don't step in to offer our time and care because we're unsure of how to do so in a respectful and helpful way. Too often, we don't even know what to say to start the conversation.
Experts agree that having a supportive community is an important factor in coping with depression—and given how pervasive this disease is, we need to get more comfortable with discussing it.
We've asked experts to weigh in, below, on how we can best support our friends and loved ones who have depression. And because almost all of us are touched by mental health in some way, we want to know what lessons you have learned, too. If you've suffered from depression, how have friends and family helped you? And what didn't work? If you've supported someone with mental illness, what advice would you give?
Our hope is that if we all become more informed about what good support for depression looks like, we'll be more likely to reach out to someone we care about who could use our care.
This week's question: How can we best support friends and loved ones with depression?
Sarah Hamid-Balma, director of mental health promotion, Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. division
"Let them know you've noticed changes, you're concerned and you want to help. Listen. Don't judge. Don't give advice. Don't diagnose. Don't pretend you're in their shoes. Just be there for them."
Dr. Lephuong Ong, registered psychologist, Vancouver
"Ask how he or she would prefer to be supported. Many prefer to have someone listen and validate rather than jumping in and providing advice or offering solutions. Others may want a friend or family member to attend appointments with them. Some people may be uncomfortable sharing how they feel but appreciate you accompanying them on walks."
Terezia Farkas, author, Heart of Love Evolution – Surviving Depression
"You might be alarmed or disturbed by what you hear. Accept it but don't promise to keep anything secret. A confidante listens and then knows when to ask others for help, preferably a trained medical professional. You're not betraying the person. You may be saving a life."
Dr. Stan Kutcher, Sun Life Financial chair in adolescent mental health, Dalhousie University, Halifax
"If you're not sure whether your teen's negative emotional state is a part of the usual growing up, don't be afraid to respectfully share your concerns. Pick a time when everyone is calm and collected. Express your affection and care. Identify your own worries and concerns. Ask your teen what they think and go from there. Sometimes it takes a few conversations to get to the point of convincing them to seek help."
Have your say in the comment section.