Talking to someone about depression can be scary or confusing. Major depression is a common but serious mental health disorder, and it can often be difficult to successfully convey your intentions, especially if you haven’t experienced a form of clinical depression yourself. Knowing what to say to a friend or loved one can tangibly improve the type of social support you offer them.
In this post, we’ll cover four thoughtful things you can say to let them know that you care, in a sensitive and compassionate manner.
1. Make Yourself Emotionally Available
Say: “Do you want to talk about how you’re doing? I’m here when you’re ready.”
This lets your friend or loved one know that you support them without pressuring them to talk about their struggles. If they are in a depressed mood, you shouldn’t force someone to open up to you about what they’re going through, but showing that you’re available whenever they need you can help them feel supported.
Don’t Say: “Are you OK?”
Many struggling with depression may feel compelled to just reply with, “I’m fine” or, “Yes, don’t worry about it.” An internal pressure of not wanting to be a burden is common in many who have depression, so telling them you are there for them rather than asking if they are OK might be more productive.
2. Offer To Help
Say: “What can I do to help today?”
Depression can make everyday tasks like getting out of bed or cooking food much more difficult. As such, letting someone know that you are genuinely there to help them in any way you can is a great way of showing your support.
Maybe this means picking them up some dinner or driving them to work, but if they’re open to accepting your help, they will be appreciative of your willingness to take time out of your day to help them. Whatever small or large task it may be, helping your loved one out in a tangible way will go far in supporting them.
Don’t Say: “But you always seem so on top of things!”
Your intentions may be pure in attempting to remind them of their strengths, but phrases like this could make them feel guilty or feel like a failure. The portrait of themselves that they show to the outside world may also not accurately reflect how they are feeling inside. Empathizing with those inner feelings is the goal, and oftentimes offering your help in a non-patronizing way can be more effective than jesting about their perceived successes.
3. Let Them Know They’re Not Alone
Say: “You’re not alone. I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I know others are feeling the exact same way.”
Depression is incredibly common. An estimated 1 in 5 Americans will experience depression at some point in their lives. Even still, depression can make many people feel alone and pressured to isolate. Tell them they’re not alone. Be there for them, even if you don’t have a similar lived experience.
Don’t Say: “We all have bad days,” or, “Just try to think happy thoughts,” or, “This is just a phase.”
These “logical solutions” can often undermine their feelings and can be less effective than simply providing compassionate support.Comments like these can come across as reductionist and offensive, even if you have the best of intentions. Remember, if you don’t have depression, you can’t fully comprehend what someone with depression might be struggling with. What you can do is lend your support.
4. Share How Important They Are
Say: “You’re important to me because…”
Depression can cause an onslaught of self-loathing, so when you let your friend or family member know that you value them, you might help restore some of that self-love.
One tip: Beyond just letting them know that they are important to you, specify why they are important to you. Be as concrete as possible. Maybe you are inspired by their creativity; maybe they have a beautiful singing voice. Let them know what they bring to the world that makes it a better place for you and others.
Don’t Say: “Lots of people would love to be you!”
This is not a great way to prove someone’s importance to you or the world. First of all, they certainly are not feeling like their life is enviable at the moment. Secondly, showing how much you care by directly connecting with them and strengthening your interpersonal relationship can be more powerful than remarking that other members of society may envy parts of their life.
There is no singular, perfect thing to say to someone dealing with clinical depression. It is a health condition like any other and requires time and treatment to heal. It’s important to remember that your words aren’t meant to be a cure, but offering a helping hand or supportive shoulder can go a long way.
Let us at Prairie Health know below if you have any other great things you say to those who are struggling, and we can all start learning how to have more impactful conversations about depression.
Feel free to take 5–10 minutes to browse the rest of Prairie’s posts on depression: