Finding the Words to Help

Knowing what to say to someone who is depressed isn’t always easy. While you may feel awkward and unsure at first, know that whatever you say doesn’t have to be profound or poetic. It should simply be something that comes from a place of compassion and acceptance. 

Try not to be dissuaded by worry over saying the “wrong” thing. Research has shown that people tend to withdraw when they are depressed, so reaching out to a friend in need is an important first step. If your friend isn’t ready to talk, continue to offer your support by spending time with them and try to talk regularly, either in person, on the phone, or by text. 

When you want to say more, but have a hard time expressing what you feel, try referencing the following statements someone who is depressed might find helpful to hear.

  • Tell Them You Care 

These two simple words—“I care”—can mean so much to a person who may be feeling like the entire world is against them. A hug or a gentle touch of the hand can even get this message across. The important thing is to reach out and let the person know that they matter to you.

  • Remind Them You’re There for Them 

Depression can feel as though no one understands what you are feeling or even cares enough to try to understand, which can be isolating and overwhelming. When you reach out to a friend, letting them know that you are going to be there every step of the way can be very reassuring. 

  • Ask How You Can Help 

Depression places a great weight on the person who is experiencing it, both physically and mentally,  so there are probably many things you can do to ease the burden as your friend recovers. Your friend may be reluctant to accept your offer for fear of becoming a burden on you, so make it clear that you don’t mind and want to help in the same way you know they would for you in a similar situation. 

It is also possible that depression may leave your friend so tired and down that they don’t even know what kind of help to ask for. Be prepared with a few specific suggestions, which may include: 

  • Could you use some help with housework or grocery shopping?
  • Would you like some company for a while?
  • Would you like me to drive you to your doctor appointments?

Being specific in regards to both the time and the activity can be helpful. For example, instead of saying “Is there anything I can do for you?” perhaps ask, “Could I come over on Saturday morning and do some yard work for you?” 

Remember, too, that the help you think your friend may need may not match with what would actually be beneficial in their eyes. Suggest—and listen.

  • Urge Them to Talk With a Doctor 

Depression treatments are a very important part of recovering from depression, but people often feel ashamed of their condition or pessimistic about whether treatment will really help. If your friend is already seeing a doctor, offer to help with picking up medications and being on time for appointments.

  • Ask Them If They Want to Talk 

Sometimes the most important thing you can do for a depressed friend is to just listen sympathetically while they talk about what is bothering them, allowing them to relieve the pressure of pent-up feelings. Listening can help make their mental and emotional pain more bearable as they go through the course of treatment prescribed by their doctor and/or therapist. Make sure to listen without interrupting. We all wish to fix things for those we care about and often offer quick fixes to cope with our own feelings of helplessness. Sometimes people who are depressed just need to talk without having the conversation taken over with well-meaning advice.

  • Remind Them That They Matter 

A common feeling among those who are depressed is that their lives don’t matter and no one would even care if they were gone. If you can sincerely tell your friend about all the ways that they matter to you and others, this can help them realize that they have value and worth.

  • Remind Them It’s OK to Feel This Way

Even if your friend’s problems may seem minor to you, resist the urge to judge or come up with simple solutions. The biochemical imbalances associated with depression are what is driving how bad your friend feels about certain situations—not the situations themselves. 

Instead, let them know that you are sorry that they are feeling so badly and adopt an attitude of acceptance that this is how their depression is affecting them. If your friend only recently started taking medications or attending counseling, it can take time for them to begin to feel better. 

Just as an antibiotic for a strep throat takes a while to work, antidepressants can take some time to change chemicals in the brain (sometimes upwards of eight weeks or longer).

  • Assure Them They’re Not Weak or Defective 

Those who are coping with depression tend to feel weak or that there is something wrong with them. While depression is an illness, those who live with it may feel that it’s a character flaw. 

Reassure your friend that depression really is an illness caused by a biochemical imbalance in the brain, and it does not mean that they are weak. In fact, it takes a great deal of strength to fight back, so they are probably much stronger than they think they are.

  • Emphasize That There’s Hope 

While you are reassuring your friend that they have a real illness, you can also reassure them that there is hope, because, like any other medical illness, depression is treatable. Through the use of medications and therapy, your friend has a very good chance of returning to feeling normal again.

  • When Good Intentions Go Wrong  

It’s possible that you can say all the “right” things and your friend will still become upset with you. Each person is an individual with unique thoughts and feelings, and being angry and upset is the nature of depression. Sometimes people will lash out at those trying to help them because they are hurting and don’t know where to direct those bad feelings. Whoever is nearby becomes a convenient target. If this happens, try not to take it personally. Stay calm and continue to do what you can to love and support your friend in whatever way they will allow. Finally, the risk of suicide is high in those living with depression. No matter what you say or what you do to help your friend, they may still experience suicidal thoughts and feelings. Make sure to be on the lookout for warning signs of suicide and know when to seek help.

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