21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 5: What to say (and what not to say) to someone who is depressed

Have you ever found yourself in situations where you want to support someone who is depressed but you just don’t know how to do it?

I know I do. Sometimes I get scared of saying anything wrong, so I don’t say anything (painfully awkward) or I get so desperate to make the problem go away that I end up saying the wrong things which makes the person feel worse.

Depression is different from sadness* (as a good friend of mine recently pointed out to me), so blaming the depressed person for lacking willpower, the attitude,or for not being spiritual enough only serves to make him/her feel more guilty or ashamed for being depressed.

person s hand with light bokeh
Photo by Anggoro Sakti on Pexels.com

So what should we say to someone who is depressed?

I asked this question on a Facebook group whose focus is on mental wellness and these were some of the responses that I got:

-That sucks! Is there anything I can do to help?

-I’m here for you

-You are not your depression

-Can I hug you?

-I love you

Some answers came from people who suffer from depression and they pointed out that sometimes the doing is even more important than the saying:

“My best friend invites me to coffee at a coffee shop. It gets me up and showered and out of the house. I’ve lived with depression for so long now I don’t need words of encouragement, I need someone to show me they care. I have another friend who calls and ask me if I want to take our dogs for a walk. It’s those little things that mean so much to me.”

“Honestly, I need someone to remind me to take my meds. I’m SO much better with them but when I’m struggling, I find that I forget (which is when I need them most).”

“Bring me flowers, bring me food, take a movie over and watch it with me, ask me to do things even if I say no. It’s hard to take care of yourself when you live with depression and nice when someone lends a hand.”

“How about connecting?… talk to me about connecting with my inner being and with others… OR just connect with me.. don’t necessarily say anything. Just be and feel the connection and in feeling that togetherness, there’s a feeling of oneness… no words are necessary.”

Here are some of the things that you should NOT say:

-Just get over it

-Smile even f you don’t feel like it

-It’s all in your head

-Suck it up

-Think about all you have to be thankful for (makes them guilty for being depressed) 

-Just pull yourself up

-Anything related to ‘just do it’, for example, go to the gym, eat better, change your lifestyle. You can gently suggest but do not prescribe. 

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*Sadness is a normal human emotion. We’ve all experienced it and we all will again. Sadness is usually triggered by a difficult, hurtful, challenging, or disappointing event, experience, or situation. In other words, we tend to feel sad about something. This also means that when that something changes, when our emotional hurt fades, when we’ve adjusted or gotten over the loss or disappointment, our sadness remits.

Depression is an abnormal emotional state, a mental illness that affects our thinking, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors in pervasive and chronic ways. When we’re depressed we feel sad about everything. Depression does not necessarily require a difficult event or situation, a loss, or a change of circumstance as a trigger. In fact, it often occurs in the absence of any such triggers. People’s lives on paper might be totally fine—they would even admit this is true—and yet they still feel horrible. (Psychology Today)

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Are there any other things that you think are helpful in supporting someone with depression? If you are depressed, what does support look like to you?

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