How to Talk to Someone Who is Depressed
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How to Talk to Someone Who is Depressed

When someone we love is depressed we often feel a loss of words and uneasy about how to speak to them.  A client asked me recently how to approach a friend who was depressed and had attempted suicide in the past.  In the fact of a difficult, heart-wrenching situation friends and loved ones unwittingly or not, make statements that put the blame on the depressed person's willpower, self-control, lack of motivation or general negative mindset.  This often backfires and increases that person's feelings of isolation and hopelessness.  These statements come from well-meaning people who misunderstand depression and the fundamentals of mental illness.

So how can you provide support to someone with depression aside from the tendency towards judgement?  Here are some examples of statements of support:

  1. "I love you!"  Many people throw around these three words but often a person in crisis doesn't feel loved.  Hearing sincere words of love are one of the best ways to reassure someone who doesn't feel lovable.
  2. "I am here for you."  Those who suffer from depression feel isolated and alone.  Letting them know that you are there for them without judgment can be a great support. 
  3. "You are worthy."  Someone who feels trapped in a cycle of self-loathing often feels worthless and unworthy of reaching out.  They don't want to be a burden or a nuisance to others.  They are aware of how infectious their moods can be for those around them.  Showing them you don't feel they are a waste of your time, they can feel less alone and feel less social pressure.
  4. "What can I do to help?"  They may not know what will help them so understand that in their state just hearing someone's willingness and openness can help shift their mood.  They will sense you care and it will reassure them when they're caught up in guilt-ridden thinking.
  5. "I like ______ about you?"  Having low self-esteem can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Depressed individuals often feel misunderstood and out of sync with everyone else.  They often are beating themselves up.  When they hear reinforcement it can help them soften their self-berating tendencies and force them to test the reality of their own thoughts.  Do not give fake praise, however.  Be honest about why you enjoy their company or love them.
  6. "Yes, that is terrible."  Sometimes individual's negative outlook is not necessarily skewed or delusional.  Of course, some of these issues are magnified, or the person can be oversensitive to a difficult situation or event, there are often real stressors that are contributing to their feelings.  It's important to acknowledge their concerns so the person doesn't feel they are the only one seeing the problem, they begin to feel there is potential for moving forward.
  7. "There are ways to get through these difficult times."  If someone is falling into a serious depression and showing not signs of improvement, despite your offers of support, it is best that you guide them to seek professional help.  It may feel scary for them; however, with your reassurance and walking through the process with them it can make a difference.  Help them to find a therapist or take someone to the emergency room if you are concerned about their safety.  Negotiating the mental-health system, insurance providers and understanding the procedures can be tricky, so having an advocate can really matter to someone who can't fight for themselves.
  8. "I have been through depression, too."  Talking with someone who feels that no one understands from a place of mutual suffering can help a great deal.  They may feel too ashamed to talk about their situation.  However, the more people talk about the reality of their condition, the less misinformation there is.  It will reduce the ongoing feelings of stigma, loneliness and guilt when we allow people to talk about their disorders.

Most important the goal of helping a loved one or a friend with depression is to be caring and supportive, but also realistic and open to their state of mind.  Often these cases can be complicated by a complex mental disorder or substance abuse.  Keep in mind to accept the depressed person without expectations of a quick fix or by placing judgment.  Finally, remember this isn't about you but you can make a difference.

33 Comments to How to Talk to Someone Who is Depressed:

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Cheryl Gnad on Monday, October 05, 2015 4:44 PM
That was very well said. I've known of several who has experienced depression and I must include myself. The responses above would be very reassuring and, basically, a real relief! I am not sure that the depressed person actually KNOWS that they are depressed and so can't warn you as to what to be saying! All of these comments are worthy of saying to anyone who is struggling to happy, even if not depressed!
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