OK, we’ve covered the worst things to say to a depressed person, along with a few things to avoid doing (like abandoning or judging the person).
This blog covers the next issue: how to talk to somebody with depression. Here are some helpful things to say to a person with depression, and some ideas about what to do.
Remember that we depressed people need to talk and need support. Isolation is the worst thing. So your goal is to help us open up, not close down.
Foster communication, don’t try to “solve”
Depression is not conquered by logic. It is helped by love.
Your words can’t “solve” depression, so don’t approach it like a problem to “fix”. Dealing with depression is a process that (1) takes perseverance over a long time and (2) requires opening up in a supportive environment.
Remember that how the person feels is more important than your “solution” or opinion.
Sometimes people have made a big difference by saying very little and instead just being around to listen patiently.
If you meet resistance or pushback
When you say some of the positive things in this blog, the depression sufferer might still try to push you away. That’s because those of us with depression are conditioned not to believe good things about ourselves.
We may even become frustrated and try taking out our hurt on a convenient target – like you. Some of us might rage in response. I sure have. Do your best not to take it personally. Remember that the rage is a way of acting out against the people/situation/feelings that are at the root of our depression, not against you.
Remain calm, loving, and supportive. The things in this blog are helpful – even if the depressed person doesn’t show it. Even if they react the opposite way to what you expect.
The most AMAZING words I have heard
“I can’t begin to understand what you’re going through, but I value you enormously. And I feel more alive just by knowing you.”
Imagine having a problem and hearing that from another person. Outstanding.
Good things to say and do
- “You are not alone.”
- “I’m here. Lean on me.”
- “I care about you. I value you.”
- “Do you need someone to listen?”
- “Let’s go get a coffee.”
- “Let’s go get a meal.”
- “I don’t know much about depression or what it’s about for you, so please tell me…”
- “There are no ‘wrong’ emotions. There are just emotions. It’s OK for you to have those emotions and feel this way.”
- “You are strong. I am amazed at your strength.”
- “Yell at me if you want. I won’t give up on you.”
- “I always have hugs available.” Then offer a hug.
- If you know the person well, something helpful, and yet also terrifying, to say: “You need to work on it, and only you can do it.” Follow it up repeatedly with: “I care about you and value you.”
- “I can’t always be there, but I’ll try my best. I’m here now.”
- “Take your time. I know it doesn’t get better overnight. One day at a time. I’ll help.”
- “Talk to a professional. I value you. Do it for me, if not for you. I’ll even drive you there and back again.”
- Go for a walk with the person.
- Leave encouraging notes and text messages.
“Some friends just kicked me in the ass. But not the rude way. They forced me to go out, see the sun, and meet people. But they always accepted when I canceled.”
From a valued friend.
Other simple things that can make a world of difference
My blog about worst things to say and do covered this already, but here is a repeat of some good ideas to get you started.
- The person needs friendship, not judgment or investigation.
- Just catching up and providing support are the two biggest things that are needed.
- In person contact is best. With texts or online communication, your message can be diluted by everything else the person looks at online. But do whatever you can and don’t give up.
- A simple message like: “Would you like to catch up for coffee, or catch a movie?”
- “I love you and believe in you.”
- Don’t ask, “How are you?” Ask, “What are you up to?” and then be interested and supportive.
- Invite the person to things. Don’t give up if the answer is no. Try again later.
A few good tips for how to approach a depressed person
- The child approach. As ridiculous or corny as this may seem, apply the same approach as you would with a child who is upset. I don’t mean be condescending. Instead, show love, empathy, compassion, etc. Teach what love is, because the person may have forgotten.
- Just be there. Sometimes you don’t have to say much. Or even anything. Just be there, listen, and support. Offer hugs, coffee, a snack, a walk, anything.
- Don’t abandon. Staying away from the depressed person can be devastating, even if they say they want to be alone. Maybe you stay away because you don’t know what to say or do. That’s understandable. But isolation is a major part of depression. When people lose friendships, relationships and jobs, depression worsens.
- Listen. Listen. Listen. Don’t jump in with solutions. Help them get it off their chest, at least for now.
- No ultimatums. Tough love in the form of an ultimatum does not work. “Fix this or get out…” or “If this happens again, I’m leaving…” are guaranteed to fail.
Thank you for reading this blog. It shows your willingness to learn and help someone with depression.
If you have depression, I am extra grateful that you have read this. I share many of your feelings and applaud your courage to learn and grow. May we move forward together. You are not alone.
I believe in you.
Many people with depression have thoughts about suicide or other self-harm – even if you have been an amazing source of support. Know the warning signs of suicide and what to do.