What to Say When Someone Is Depressed

What Words May Help Your Friend Cope with Depression?

Do you know someone who is depressed, but you just aren't sure what you can say to help? While you may feel awkward and unsure at first. there really are no wrong things you can say as long as they come from a place of compassion and acceptance. These ten statements, however, will give you a better idea of what might be helpful for your friend to hear.

It's important to note that—even if you risk saying the "wrong" thing—it's always better to say something than to remain silent and say nothing at all. Too many people with clinical depression are left lonely—a process which only worsens depression—because friends choose to say nothing (in other words avoid them.). If you simply don't know what to say, honestly is the best policy. Tell your friend that you have no idea what to say—but that you will be there for her.

1
I Care

two men sitting on a park bench, one depressed and the other talking to and comforting him
What should you say to a friend who is depressed?. Istockphoto.com/Stock Photo©debbiehelbing

These two simple words—“I care”—can can mean so much to a person who may be feeling like the entire world is against him. But, you don't have to say a single word to get your message across. A hug or a gentle touch of the hand can speak volumes about what you are feeling. The important thing is to reach out to him and let him know that he matters to you.

Remember to show your caring in your actions and not just your words. Actions—as the old adage says—speak much louder than words. In fact, words without actions can hurt more than if the words were never spoken.

2
I'm Here for You

Depression is a very lonely experience. It can feel as if no one understands what you are feeling or even cares enough to begin to understand. When you reach out to a friend and let him know that you are going to be there for him every step of the way it can be very reassuring.

These four words, in fact, are probably the most important words you can speak to your friend. But as with saying you care, make sure that your actions back up your words lest you leave your friend feeling even more alone.

3
Is There Anything I Can Do to Help?

Depression places a great weight on the person who has it, both physically and mentally, so there are probably many things you can do to ease the load as your friend recovers.

Please be aware however, he may be reluctant to accept your offer for fear of becoming a burden on you. So, make it clear that you don't mind at all. You are friends and you know he would do the same for you in a similar situation.

You should also be aware that he may feel so beaten down and tired from his depression that he doesn't even know himself what he might need. Be prepared with a few specific suggestions, just in case. For example, you might ask:

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

Again, offer specific help with regard to both the time and activity if possible. For example, instead of saying "Is there anything I can do for you?" perhaps ask instead, "Could I come over on Saturday morning and wash some windows for you." Note that using windows as an example wasn't an accident. Bringing a little fresh light into a room for your friend may not only let him know that you care, but could add a little physical light to his world.

4
Do You Need Someone to Talk With?

Sometimes the most important thing you can do for a depressed friend is to simply listen sympathetically while he talks about what is bothering him, allowing him to relieve the pressure of all his pent up feelings. The relief of this pressure may be enough to lessen his pain and allow him to carry on until treatment takes over and corrects his brain chemistry.

Make sure to listen without interrupting even if it is very hard. We all wish to fix things for our friends, and often offer quick fixes to cope with our own pain of helplessness. Yet very often our friends who are depressed just need to talk without having us take over the conversation with our "advice."

5
Have You Told Your Doctor How You Are Feeling?

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 them. If your friend has not yet seen a doctor, encourage him to seek help and reassure him that there is nothing wrong with asking for assistance. Depression is a real illness and very treatable. If he is already seeing a doctor, offer to help him in keeping up with medications and appointments until he is feeling well again.

6
Your Life Makes a Difference to Me

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

7
I Understand (If You Really Do)

Before you tell someone that you understand, you should be certain that you do. Have you ever experienced clinical depression? If you have, it may be helpful to your friend to realize that you have experienced what he is now feeling and were able to get better. Keep in mind that there are several different types of depression, and even if you did experience a clinical depression, it may have been very different than your friends.

However, if what you have been through was just a mild case of the blues that lasted only a short time,  he may feel you are trivializing his experience by comparing it with his. In this case, it would be best to simply admit that you don't understand what he is going through, but you care about him and want to try. Learn more about the differences between the blues and clinical depression.

Often, the best words to say are, "I don't understand, but I really want to."

8
It's Okay to Feel This Way

Even though 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 he feels about the situation, not the situation itself. Instead, let him know that you are sorry that he is feeling so bad and adopt an attitude of acceptance that this is how his depression is affecting him.

If your friend was only recently started on medications or counseling, it can take time. Just as an antibiotic for a strep throat takes a while to work, antidepressants can take some time to change the chemicals in your friend's brain. Unlike antibiotics which may take 25 hours or so, antidepressants can take six to eight weeks or more to kick in. The point is that just as someone with strep throat will still have throat pain a few hours after taking an antibiotic, someone with depression may still appear depressed for several weeks after starting treatment. During this time what he most needs is not references to quick fixes that likely won't help, but an awareness that you will be by his side until his treatment works.

9
You Aren't Weak or Defective

With depression, there is a tendency to feel like we are weak or there is something wrong with us. Depression may be an illness for others, but we feel that it's a character flaw for us. Reassure your friend that depression really is an illness caused by a biochemical imbalance in his brain. It does not mean he is weak. In fact, it takes a great deal of strength to fight back so he is probably much stronger than the average person.

10
There Is Hope

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

Helping your friend goes beyond the words you speak. Check out these further ideas on how to help a friend with depression.

11
Know the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Suicide

Finally, the risk of suicide is far too high in those suffering with depression. No matter what you say or what you do to help your friend, she may still experience suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Make sure to study up on the warning signs of suicide, both for your relationship with your friend, and others you may meet in the future.

12
What If I Say These Things and He Still Becomes Upset With Me?

It is possible that you can say all the "right" things and your friend will still becomes upset with you. Why? Because each person is an individual with his own unique thoughts and feelings. And, being angry and upset is the nature of the illness. Sometimes people will lash out at those trying to help them because they are hurting and they just don't know where to direct those bad feelings, so, whoever is nearby becomes a convenient target. If this happens with your friend, don't take it personally. Stay calm and continue to do what you can to love and support him in whatever way he will allow.

Sources:

Gariepy, G., Honkaniemi, H., and A. Quesnel-Vallee. Social Support and Protection from Depression: Systematic Review of Current Findings in Western Countries. British Journal of Psychiatry. 209(4):284-293.

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