One out of every fifteen people will go through depression1https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression in any given year, and one in six people will experience depression at some point in their life; so, odds are, one of your friends or family members will experience depression.
Please know this: If you or someone you know is feeling depressed, you are not alone. And there are ways to get help.
You might feel uncertain or even awkward when interacting with someone depressed. Should you avoid talking about it? Should you try to help? Should you give them space? In this article, we’ll help you better understand what depression is and equip you with tips and examples to become the friend your loved one needs.
What Is Depression?
Clinical depression is a mental health disorder that strongly affects how a person thinks, feels, and acts1https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression. We all go through rough patches in life, but depression is more than just feeling sad or going through a funk. It’s a health condition that can cause a person to lose purpose, energy, pleasure, and self-worth for weeks or months.
Here is an infographic from the US Department of Health and Human Services detailing the frequency of depression among different demographics.
According to the American Psychiatric Association1https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression, “a depressive episode differs from regular mood fluctuations. They last most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.”
Here are some common symptoms of depression:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling inundated with sadness, guilt, shame, anxiety, and worthlessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism about the future
- Life feels grey and empty
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feeling constantly fatigued
- Loss of interest in activities that were once exciting
- Either weight gain or weight loss due to appetite shifts
- Either trouble sleeping solidly or difficulty stopping sleeping
- Experiencing numbness and a lack of feelings.
If you’d like to see what depression feels like in the body, here’s an interesting graphic.
Just like in this gif below, if someone is depressed, they might feel in the dumps no matter what activity they’re doing.
How depression can impact someone’s life
Depression will seep into every corner of a person’s life. Here are some of the more common ways depression impacts people.
- Daily routine. Even the simplest tasks can feel challenging. Depression can make it difficult to get out of bed and keep a consistent routine. Leaving home for work or school can feel like a herculean task.
- Relationships. The social withdrawal often associated with depression can cause a person to isolate themselves from friends and family. They may pull away from loved ones, which can strain relationships.
- Physical health: Depression is linked with2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC486942/ joint pain, limb pain, back pain, digestive issues, tiredness, sleep challenges, impaired motor skills, and appetite disturbances. Further, it is also linked with diabetes3https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/mental-health.html#:~:text=People%20with%20diabetes%20are%202,often%20gets%20worse%2C%20not%20better., heart disease4https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/news/2017/heart-disease-and-depression-two-way-relationship, and other illnesses. Depression already makes motivation harder, but when the depressed person also has to deal with physical illness, their symptoms can snowball.
- Work or school performance: Concentration and motivation often suffer in people with depression, which can lead to decreased performance at work or school and even job loss or dropping out of school.
Avoid These Statements When Talking to Someone Who Is Depressed
While you generally can’t go wrong with good intentions, there are a few pitfalls to watch out for. Certain types of statements might come across as insensitive. Here are a few mistakes to be aware of to make sure you don’t say the wrong thing.
These make light of someone’s feelings or suggest their struggle isn’t severe.
- “There are others who have it worse than you.”
- “You’re just having a bad day.”
- “Well, at least you’re not starving in a third-world country.”
These suggest that the individual is to blame for their depression.
- “You’re just not trying hard enough.”
- “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
- “It’s all in your head.”
Depression is a complex mental health condition that can’t be solved through simple means. Claiming they just need to ______ will probably just evoke annoyance.:
- “Why don’t you just get out more?”
- “Exercise and eat healthily, and you’ll feel better.”
- “Just stop focusing on negative thoughts.”
Toxic positivity assumes that if you only focus on the positive, all negative thoughts and feelings disappear. There are many cases where positive thinking is a helpful tool, though usually true healing requires a more nuanced approach.
- “Cheer up!”
- “Think positive thoughts, and it will go away.”
- “Just keep smiling, and things will get better.”
These statements come from a place of you not believing or accepting the other person’s experience, which can make them feel invalidated.
- “You don’t look depressed.”
- “Are you sure you’re not just looking for attention?”
- “Depression is just a fancy word for feeling sad.”
4 Tips On How to Talk to Someone Who Is Depressed
Before getting into the tips, please note that all content found on this website is not to be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns in regard to your physical or mental health. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.
With that said, here are some tips on how to relate to your friend.
Get curious and suspend judgment.
If your loved one is depressed, you might have the impulse to avoid the conversation topic. However, this only turns their depression into an elephant in the room. Many people with depression won’t naturally bring up their state because they don’t want to feel like a burden or to “bring the vibe down.”
But if you express curiosity about how they’re feeling, what they’re struggling with, and what it’s like to be them, they might feel relief in not having to hide themselves anymore.
Plus, the more you understand the world from your friend’s perspective, the better you can show them attuned love and support.
Here’s something you could try saying:
“I know you mentioned offhand that you’ve been struggling with sadness. If you’re open to sharing, I was curious to understand more about what that’s like for you.”
If you’re uncertain, here are a few questions that might help stoke your curiosity:
- What does it feel like to be depressed?
- What is their relationship with their body like when depressed?
- Are they always depressed or just sometimes?
- If their depression comes in cycles, do they know why it comes on and why it leaves?
- When they are depressed, what are the times that they still feel like themselves?
Practice patience and understanding.
Depression isn’t something a person can simply “snap out of.” It’s a serious condition that requires time and intention to overcome.
Recognize that they might be stuck in their depression for a very long time. And if you impatiently try to push them into a quick fix, you will just end up frustrated, and they’ll likely feel misunderstood.
Instead, you could try telling them:
“I feel comfortable with your depression. You don’t have to change who you are or how you’re feeling for me.”
Oftentimes, well-meaning friends and family will try to offer a depressed person a quick fix. There are no quick fixes for depression, and it takes patience to be okay with this. Read on to find out how…
Listen without trying to fix it.
Sometimes, a person with depression may not be seeking advice but just a sympathetic ear. Let them share their feelings and thoughts without interruption or judgment. This therapist explains how, in her experience, healing listening can be.
For many of us, another person’s suffering can evoke a strong impulse to fix, cure, or solve their issue. But in this case, your friend really just needs you to listen with acceptance.
Action Step: Take a paper and pen and jot down all the advice you’ve been dying to give your friend but have been holding back (or maybe some of this advice you’ve already tried to provide them). It might look like this:
- You should go to the gym with my trainer!
- You just need to eat more vegetables!
- You need to meditate on Sam Harris’ app!
- You need to take some jiu-jitsu classes at my favorite studio!
Then, the next time you talk to your friend, simply notice when any of your impulses to give fixes or advice arise, smile, and let them go.
If I were you, I imagine I’d feel…
Psychology researcher Brené Brown reminds us that connection is the most practical salve for suffering. And that the way to get to a connection is through empathy.
Here’s a short video where she breaks down what empathy looks like:
To empathize with a person who is depressed, you:
- Try to understand their perspective
- Avoid judging them as wrong or bad
- Notice what emotions they’re feeling
- Communicate what emotions you perceive in them.
If that feels like a lot to wrap your mind around, here’s a powerful listening tool to build a connection with your friend while training your empathy muscles.
Listening Technique: Use the phrase “If I were you, I imagine I’d feel…” You can do this in two ways.
- Organically: The next time your friend is opening up and sharing about what they’re going through, use that phrase as often as organically possible. For example:
- Them: “I wanted to walk today but couldn’t get out of bed.”
- You: “If I were you, I imagine I’d feel frustrated at how hard it is to accomplish the things I want to right now. Does that feel true for you?”
- Them: “Yes, it is very frustrating. But more than that, I feel guilty, like I should be doing better.”
- In a container: This option might feel a bit formal for some folks, but if you’re open to trying, it can take you somewhere rather deep rather quickly. If you’d like to pitch your friend on it, tell them you want to practice your empathy skills and see if they’d be open to this activity.
- Set a time for 5 minutes.
- Ask them, “What’s challenging for you right now?”
- They respond.
- You say, “If I were you, I imagine I’d feel ______. Does that feel true for you?”
- They elaborate further.
- Repeat steps 4-5 until the time runs out.
Examples of Different Support Statements to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed
If you know you want to share supportive sentiments with your loved one and want to hone in on a specific flavor of support, here are a few options to consider:
When people are depressed, they can forget that they matter and have people who care about them. They might even distance themselves from others. A gentle reminder that you love this person can go a long way.
- “I want you to know I’m here for you, no matter what. Even if it’s just to sit in silence or listen, I’m here, and I care about you deeply.”
- “It’s okay to not be okay sometimes. I’m here to support you through the hard times, just as I am in the good times.”
- “I can see you’re hurting, and I’m really sorry to see you in pain. I’m not sure what to say or do, but just know that I’m here with you.”
While norms around mental health are evolving quickly, it’s still taboo to talk about depression, anxiety, or, frankly, anything vulnerable.
It’s possible that your friend feels like they have to keep their struggles a secret because others might deny and delegitimize their experience if they try to share. Or they’re afraid that their struggles won’t be taken seriously. If you can just hear and honor their experience, it can take loads of pressure off.
- “It sounds like things are really tough for you right now, and I want to acknowledge that your feelings are valid. It’s okay to be upset. It’s okay to not have it all figured out.”
- “I can’t fully understand what you’re going through, but I believe you when you say it’s hard. Your feelings are important to me.”
- “Your feelings are real, and they matter. It’s perfectly okay to express them, and I’m here to listen.”
Offer to help
One primary symptom of depression is a lack of motivation. Folks who are depressed might struggle to cook, clean, or do anything productive. If you can offer to lighten their load, it can make a huge difference. But because they might also struggle with low self-worth, it might require a little cajoling to get them to accept your generosity.
- “I know depression can sap a person of their motivation. Do you have any tasks I can help with? Shopping? Cleaning? I mean it!”
- “I feel inspired to cook a huge meal this week. I’ll have a bunch of leftovers. Would you be interested in taking some off my hands?”
- “I know you mentioned you’ve been struggling to get tasks done. I thought it would be helpful for both of us if I came over on Sunday for a 2-hour work session where we both give each other the accountability to finally clear out those to-do-list items we’ve been avoiding. I would benefit from it as well. What do you think?”
When someone is stuck in the bottom of the well of depression, it might feel like they’ll never get out. The future may seem bleak and joyful, like a thing of the past. Even if they can’t see out outside of their current fog, you can. And it can be a huge blessing for you to share your sight with them—letting them know that there is still beauty out there to experience and light ahead.
- “I believe in you and your strength, even in these difficult times. I know it’s hard, but I also know you’re capable of overcoming this. I know it’s hard to see, but trust me, at some point, light will shine through the clouds again.”
- “Take your time; it’s okay to move at your own pace. Remember, it’s progress, not perfection. I’m proud of you for facing this.”
- “You’re not alone in this journey. I’m here with you. Even though it might not feel like it right now, things will get better, and your story is yet to be told.”
How to Encourage Someone Who Is Depressed to Seek Professional Help
For many folks, the best way to heal from depression is to engage in professional support. That might mean working with a licensed therapist or attending support groups.
Encouraging someone to seek support is a delicate balance. You don’t want to come as pushy or pathologizing.
If your loved one is suffering, consider these tips to open up the possibility of seeking support.
Normalize seeking help
Explain that it’s okay to seek help and that doing so is a sign of strength, not weakness. Assure them that many people—including successful and happy individuals—rely on therapists and other professionals to manage their mental health.
Here are a few notable celebrities who are open about their positive experiences with professional therapy:
Encourage them gradually and respectfully
Please don’t force the idea on them. If they are hesitant, give them space and bring up the topic gently at a later time. Remember, the decision is ultimately theirs.
But be ready to help them on their way to finding a therapist if they show interest.
Help them understand what professional help involves. Explain that therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists are trained professionals who can provide strategies and tools to help manage depression. You can even assist them in finding suitable professionals on reputable online platforms.
You could share with them Psychology Today, which has a global repository of therapists. Or you could offer them a platter of options you find through either research or recommendation to make the process easier.
If they are tentative about the idea, ensure you’ll be there with them throughout the process.
You could offer to accompany them to their first appointment or help them schedule it. This can make the process more manageable.
Remember To Take Care of Yourself Too
It’s a beautiful gesture to want to help a friend who is going through a depressive episode. However, it can also be a difficult position to be in.
I lived with a partner years ago who was amidst a deep depression. And I mistakenly began to assume it was my responsibility as her partner to help her feel better. My self-esteem began to get entangled in her feeling better, and it started to get messy.
But you can avoid those pitfalls if you keep in mind these three tips:
- Set clear boundaries. Follow your impulse to help, but make sure you aren’t giving so much of your time and energy that it’s beginning to weigh on you.
- Set emotional boundaries. Recognize that your loved one’s feelings are not your responsibility. You can love them and want to help, but their feelings are their own.
- Managing expectations. Depression is a formidable beast. Sometimes, no amount of love, support, and encouragement will make an impact. Your efforts might not help.
- Take care of yourself. The trope of putting your oxygen mask on before helping someone with theirs applies here. Don’t try to help your loved one until your self-care feels dialed in and on balance.
If you would like support, you could look into the National Alliance for Mental Illness, where you can join free support group calls for people with loved ones who suffer from depression.
Frequently Asked Questions About What to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed
When speaking to someone depressed, it’s essential to express your compassion and validate their feelings; if you have the bandwidth, you can also offer support. You might say, “I’m here for you, and your feelings are valid. If there are tasks I can help with, I’m available.”
When you’re talking to someone who is depressed, approach them with empathy, patience, and understanding. Listen more than you speak, validate their feelings, and gently encourage them without forcing positivity.
The worst thing to say to a depressed person is anything that minimizes, blames, or dismisses their experience. Avoid statements like, “You’re just having a bad day,” “It’s all in your head,” or “You don’t look depressed.”
If you are depressed, it can be helpful to reach out to trusted individuals in your life, consider seeking professional help, and remember that your feelings are valid. You’re not alone, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Takeaways About What to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed
Navigating conversations with someone experiencing depression can feel daunting, but your love and support can be light in their darkness. Just remember these tips:
- Empathetic listening is a powerful tool that can create connection and understanding. Remember the prompt: “If I were you, I imagine I’d feel _____.”
- Validate their feelings and show that you understand and respect their experience. There’s already a ton of cultural stigma around depression; listen in a way that helps your friend accept their expertise.
- Offer to help with tasks or activities, which can often be challenging for them to manage.
- Avoid dismissive statements that could invalidate their experiences. Don’t downplay their pain or try to fix anything. Listen and accept them.
- Encourage professional support with gentleness and respect if they’re open to it.
- Take care of your mental health and set boundaries to avoid burnout while supporting others.
One everyday companion to depression is loneliness. People who are depressed often isolate themselves, and folks without social support5https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00127-017-1440-7 can more easily fall into depression. If you’d like to understand loneliness more, check out this article.
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