How to Provide Support

Even having one trusted supporter can have a huge impact on a man’s ability to recover

Starting a Conversation with a man about depression is the first step in supporting him. But then what?

Supporting a person who is struggling with depression may be intuitive for some people, but for most, it’s new territory. Knowing how to offer helpful support in a manageable way is critical not only for the person we’re supporting, but also for ourselves.

The tips below can help you become the best support person you can be for the man you care about.

Let him know you’re available

The first and most important part about providing support is to let him know that you’re there for him, while being mindful about how much time you can give depending on your relationship and other commitments.

What you can say:

  • “I want you to know that I have your back, you’re not in this alone.”
  • “I’m here for you. If you need someone to talk with, bounce ideas around with, or simply need someone to listen, just let me know.”
  • “Hey, whenever you want to go for a walk and talk, let me know.”
  • “Like most guys, I know you like to try figuring things out on your own, but you don’t have to battle this alone. In fact, you shouldn’t – depression is too tough to tackle on one’s own. I’m by your side through this.”

Practice active listening

Often, the most helpful way we can support a person who is struggling with depression is to simply listen, allowing him to share what he is dealing with. 

Key components of active listening include:

  • Withholding judgment and avoiding interrupting him
  • Clarifying understanding through open-ended questions and summarizing
  • Showing empathy and acknowledging his emotions
  • Providing validating feedback

When a guy does open up, you want to be receptive so he’ll feel comfortable talking to you more in the future. 

Our article on Active Listening provides more detail and examples on how to build this critical skill. 

Be receptive to requests for support

Being available means responding in a timely and receptive manner, if or when he reaches out. 

When supporting someone, we need to do our best to prioritize important conversations even if it means interrupting our own activities. If you can’t talk right away, let him know a specific time when you can chat instead. 

The keys here are to:

  • Express your appreciation of his trust in confiding in you 
  • Avoid using language that might make him feel like a burden or inconvenience 

What you can say:

  • “Hi, sure, yeah happy to meet up. Where are you? How about we meet at the coffee shop in an hour?”
  • “Hey buddy, glad to hear from you! Today is a bit busy, but I have lots of time on the weekend! Does Sunday at 3pm work?”

Ask how you can help him

It’s best to not assume that you know what the other person needs. Instead, ask him what support he wants or needs. By asking directly, we are also letting him know we’re able to help on his terms.

  • For example, he may appreciate a listening ear, practical help with getting groceries, or simply spending time together doing something he enjoys.

Manageable support strategies

It’s really important to keep in mind that as a support person, you are not the guy’s doctor or therapist. Instead, be realistic about what you can do to support someone in a manageable and appropriate way.

Some practical ways that you might provide support include:

  • Lend a hand doing household chores 
  • Help him create a daily/weekly schedule
  • Encourage him develop a good sleep routine
  • Invite him out to do something physically active (e.g., a walk or jog)
  • Encourage healthy eating and discourage fast foods
  • Encourage him to keep up his personal care and hygiene
  • Encourage social connection (through social activities or groups that interest him)
  • Offer to participate in activities together (e.g., going to a sports game or trying a new hobby)
  • Help prioritize issues to work on (our Stress Test can help here)
  • Help set small, specific, and achievable goals to help him regain a sense of control and progress (like going for a walk each day at 5pm for 15 minutes).

Many of the areas you can offer to help with are covered in our section called The Essentials.

If you do end up helping to manage some of his responsibilities, you can pull back and allow him to retake charge as he starts to feel better.

Ask for his help on tasks not requiring a ton of energy

Men are often much kinder to their friends than they are to themselves, and thus may be more receptive to participating in healthy activities if they think they are helping us.

You could ask for his help with:

  • Fixing something, like a bike or fence
  • Taking your dog out 
  • Running errands, like picking something up
  • Helping with food prep 
  • Working on a passion project

Check in regularly

Regularly check in with him, whether it’s through messages, calls, or in-person visits. You want to let him know that you’re there for him, and willing to listen. 

How often you check in will depend on your relationship, but it could be a daily message, a weekly call, or a monthly get-together. 

Sometimes it can help to make it seem like he’s doing you a favour. You can say something like:

  • “I really care about you, so I would like to check in every couple of days. It helps me feel better to know how you’re doing. Would that be fine?

Respect his boundaries

It’s pretty common to want to ‘fix’ the problems that a person we care about is confronted with, but this usually leads to a man feeling as if he’s weak, broken, or not capable of helping himself, which could cause him to further withdraw. We want to focus more on being available and supporting him in ways that he defines as helpful or needed. 

  • Avoid trying to “fix” him or take control over his recovery
  • Ask him how you can “be there” for him

Respect your own boundaries

Taking on too much responsibility and pressure in support of another person has the potential to become overwhelming. 

If you need a break, be honest and work toward more sustainable levels of support. If necessary, you may want to set some boundaries around what you are willing to do and not do. 

Keep in mind that:

  • You are not his doctor or therapist
  • There is a limit to the support you can offer

Be patient and hopeful

Recovering from depression tends be a long process and there are going to be ups and downs along the way. 

As a support person, it’s very important to be patient, to not get caught up in the pessimism that often occurs during the “downs”, provide positive reinforcement during the “ups”, and generally be hopeful and encouraging.

  • Focus on his strengths and achievements
  • Acknowledge and validate his efforts in the recovery process
  • Celebrate progress, no matter how incremental
  • Be patient with him and continue to provide support, even it feels like progress is slow

Encourage professional support

Remember that support from peers (friends, family, co-workers, etc) is not a replacement for professional help and our roles are not to diagnose or provide therapy. 

Connecting with a family doctor and/or mental health professional is crucial for a man’s recovery from depression. 

There are two main approaches we want to encourage (either simultaneously or in step-wise fashion):

Visiting a family doctor

A family doctor can help to:

  • Evaluate his symptoms
  • Refer him to other resources as needed
  • Potentially prescribe anti-depressant medication (if appropriate)
  • Be another support person in his life

Men tend to be reluctant to seek help for depression, so it may take some effort to get him to open up to the idea.

What you can say:

  • “What you’re going through seems more serious than the usual stresses or ups and downs you’ve gone through before. Maybe it’s time to check in with a doctor to see what might be going on. Then at least you’ll know better what you’re dealing with.”
  • “It pains me to see you going through this. I wish I knew how to help, but a therapist certainly does. It’s time to reach out so you can get back to living well again”
  • “Do you have a regular doctor? If not, I know of a clinic where you could make an appointment. That’s the first step in getting back to being your best self.”

Finding a therapist

Talk therapy, known formally as ‘psychotherapy’ or more simply ‘therapy’, is a form of treatment for various mental health issues that is supported by decades of research. Among the treatments available for depression, talk therapy is one of the most effective and widely used.

A lot of men may not really know what therapy is about and feel reluctant to go.

What you can say:

  • “If you tore a muscle and needed to rehab, you’d go to a doctor or a physiotherapist, why is depression different? Think of it like other health issues. If you’re sick or hurting, seek help. That’s why these kinds of supports exist.” 
  • “Seeing a therapist may seem like a drastic step, but it’s not. Seeing a therapist isn’t a big deal; lots of people have them, even professional athletes. It’s no different than going to a physio to rehab a knee injury.”
  • “I’m not sure what your medical coverage is, but there’s nothing more important than your health. I know your future self will thank you for it.”

Check out our Guide to Therapy for Men for more information.

If he already has a doctor and/or therapist, but isn’t getting better

Encourage him to stick to the recovery process and the advice provided to him through his professional support.

If there seems to be a valid issue with the doctor or therapist he is seeing, you can help look into other resources that may help. Finding a good fit with a doctor or therapist sometimes takes a few tries. Let him know that this is OK and that part of the recovery process is trying and finding the resources that work best for him.

If he is withdrawing

Men who are struggling with depression often withdraw from social activities, which can exacerbate their symptoms. This underscores the importance of our presence and support, to encourage him to stay connected and engaged with his social life.

See our article for tips on Supporting a Man who is Withdrawing.

Take any references to suicide or escaping from life seriously

Many guys fighting depression will have suicidal thoughts. Any kind of reference to suicide, even if done in a joking manner, should be taken seriously.

For help with understanding and addressing suicide risk, see our section on Managing Suicide Risk.

Try not to take things personally

Depression seriously affects a guy’s mood, and for some, that means sometimes being irritable, angry, or behaving in ways that may be out of character for them. Try to understand that is not a personal attack on you or reflecting a lack of appreciation of your support, but instead is a reflection of the significant internal pain he is suffering.

Providing ongoing support for someone who is struggling with a serious illness like depression can come with challenges that can affect our own health. Our page on Taking Care of Yourself is essential reading for any long-term supporter.

Next Step:

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024