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What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone Who’s Depressed

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What to Say (And Not to Say) to Someone Who Is Depressed

One of the worst things about depression is the loneliness and the sense of the world getting on with things without you. If someone tells you they have depression, know that they are showing you part of the beautiful, messy, unpredictable frailties that come with being human. We all have them. It can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is depressed, but know that it’s unlikely you can make anything worse.

What to Say to Someone Who is Depressed.

We humans are a complex bunch, and even with all the loving intent in the world it can be difficult to know what to say. Here are some places to start.

  1. ‘This isn’t an ending. You can beat this.’

    The hopelessness of depression stands with its arms crossed, blocking the door to anything better. That’s how it feels. You probably won’t be believed the first time you say this, but just keep saying it and believing it enough for both of you. Even if the way out feels blocked, you’ll at least be lighting the path.

  2. ‘I’m here.’

    This will help more than you realise – but back it up with action. Call. Visit. Make contact. The very nature of depression means that the depressed person will be unlikely to reach out to you. Show them you have enough reach in you for both of you. It will make a difference.

  3. Narrow your offer of help.

    If you say, ‘let me know what I can do to help’, you’re likely to get a ‘nothing’ – or just nothing – back. Depression makes things seem pointless and overwhelming. Narrowing down your offer gives a starting point. Narrow down the time – ‘I’ll meet you after your session/ therapy/ doctor’s appointment if you want’, or the task – ‘What can I do to help with the kids?’ ‘I’ve made a curry. There’s heaps. Can I bring some over for you. Just throw it in the freezer if you want.’

  4. ‘I know you probably don’t feel like it right now but let’s go for a walk.’

    For mild to moderate depression, exercise has the same effect on the brain as antidepressants. The problem is that with depression comes a lack of energy or enthusiasm for everyday activities so it’s likely that depressed people won’t feel like doing anything. That’s where you come in. Organising a way to exercise together will help on two fronts – through physical activity and social contact.

  5. ‘Depression is a real thing.’

    This is a big one. People who are depressed will likely feel there’s something wrong with them. Let them know you that understand depression is an illness and that it didn’t happen because there’s something wrong with them. They were completely fine until depression happened. Let them know it could just as easily happen to anybody, and that you’re not going anywhere because one day, it could be you.

  6. ‘Explain it to me. I want to understand.’

    Perhaps if you’ve had depression before you’ll be able to understand but even if you have, everybody does depression differently. The more you can understand the better. Even showing that you are interested enough to want to understand is huge. In the same way that you don’t have to have a broken arm to know that it hurts, you don’t have to have had depression to be an incredible support.

  7. ‘There’s nothing you can say to me that will send me away from you.’

    Unfortunately, even with all our advances in what we know about depression being a physical condition, there will still be shame and stigma around depression. Part of this is because of the ill-informed idiots in the community who don’t understand enough about it. Even in the strongest person (because even the strongest person can get depressed), the stigma can leave a mark. Be the one who pushes against it.

  8. Point out when you see a glimpse of their pre-depressed self.

    The very nature of depression renders it difficult to remember life without depression. The person they were without depression is still there. Be the one who can still see them. Remind them of what they were like and point out every time you catch a glimpse. 

And What Not to Say …

  1. ‘Snap out of it.’

    Depression is a physical illness, just like the flu. Until they find a way for people to snap out of the flu and other physical illnesses, just don’t go there. 

  2. ‘You just need to be better at dealing with it.’

    First of all, what’s the ‘it’. If by ‘it’ you mean depression, they are dealing with it. As best they can. Every. Single. Day. All you’ll be doing is kickstarting another round of self-doubt, self-criticism and hopelessness.  So just don’t.

  3. ‘You’re being really selfish.’

    If you love someone with depression it will be lonely and awful for you too. What’s hard is that in a relationship the emotional resources generally go straight to the person who is struggling the most so there might not be much left in the kitty for you. What’s important to remember though is that the person with depression will already be giving themselves a hard time. Depression is a physical illness, not a choice. Let them know that you miss them. And don’t stop loving them.

  4. ‘You just need to get out and do something.’

    People with depression lose energy for life. Leaving the house can feel as do-able as plucking a star from the sky and using it to power the stove at breakfast. The sentiment would be right though, even if the delivery was not so helpful. Doing something, particularly something involving social contact or exercise will help to counter the neurochemistry that is causing the depression. Rather than giving well-intended advice, initiate something to do together. 

  5. What do you have to be depressed about?’

    Perhaps it’s true that there are people worse off, but that’s not how it feels to somebody who is depressed. Depression doesn’t let people answer that question with, ’ Yeah. You’re right. Where’s my head been at then? Let’s just play some happy music and get on with it hey?’ The response is more likely to be ‘You’re right’. So there must be something wrong with me.’ As anyone who has ever struggled emotionally with anything will know (that’s all of us by the way), someone else having problems doesn’t vanish yours.

  6. ‘Just have a drink and loosen up.’

    Alcohol itself is a depressant, so be careful encouraging a depressed person to have a drink.

And finally …

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, know that it’s treatable. Like the flu, it’s a physical condition and there are so many options for treatment now, with more opening up all the time. The most important thing is to keep talking – to your family, your friends, your GP. It’s your most powerful weapon in the you-v-depression fight.

If you know someone with depression what it all comes back to is this: love, compassion, and empathy are superpowers. Know that and use them. You’ll never know the difference you’ll be making.

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32 Comments

busy bee

i know someone who i love dearly, but he’s just tired of himself and well potentially life. Its particularly because he’s away from his family an lonely, sleep deprived and feels like he’s useless or good for nothing which is not at all true. He needs a boost of energy, he’s even sick whih tends to make him more depressed, what can i say or do to make him feel better, if i was there with him i could have done something but i am far away

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Evaldas

Hello, not quite certain why i am commenting. All your points are pointed out correctly and is exactly what i am feeling right now, but at the same time i know exactly what i would need to do, but just don’t feel about doing it, it feels that world is spinning around and moving without me just fine, i am single don’t want to bother my friends or familly or more likely i don’t want them to know how i feel, i do pretty good job of hiding my emotions under a smile that is why all the people around thinks that i am doing great while inside i suffocate my self for what it seems silly reasons. Another part is that i don’t want to burdain with my silly problems or imaginary problems or concerns. Other than that i do decide to find second half but it id going not good, mostly because i do imagine thing differently or expecting from a stranger person too fast emotional attachment so i would safe to talk with that person anything, i do realize what and how i should act but most of the time i spook my self out or feels like everything i do is not enough. Most of the time when i am not working i feel like doing nothing and feeling sad about my self. I guess loneliness is not good but i do not want talk about my feelings with any of my relative or friends becaus any thiught that i think of seems stupid to me. All in all i am 29 with normal look, just wishing some times to disapear, not kill my self or be killed just simply disapear in thin air so that no one would notice or know me.

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Cooper

I have suffered with depression for forty years. The one thing I hate to hear you did not mention – There is nothing wrong with you. If people would take the time to educate themselves maybe we could lose some of the stigma. People don’t understand the difference between the emotion of depression and the disease of depression. Just because it doesn’t show on the outside with a bandage or cast doesn’t make it hurt any less. And unless you have gone through it you can’t understand the worst pain ever reaching every corner of your being and soul.

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Alex

I am 10 years old. I have a home, a full family, 2 dogs, 3 siblings, good grades, and plenty of electronics. But yet I still feel depressed… I hate my body, life, reality, and my past. in 2nd grade, I used to be a positive, loving girl who loved her body. Now, I just a mess that used to be defined by other people. I’m homeschooled now, but I still feel like I don’t belong.

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Karen Young

Alex, please speak to an adult you trust. What you are feeling is not unusual, but it is important to make sure it doesn’t keep making you feel worse. That girl from grade 2 is still in you, and she wants you back. There will be a lot of adults who understand what is happening because they have felt this themselves. You don’t have to feel like this, and you don’t have to do this alone. I can hear how strong and brave and wise you are. There is a place for you in this world – a really important place. Please don’t let the way you are thinking and feeling convince you otherwise. If you are unable to speak with your parents, please try a family friend or relative. Alternatively, here is a list of places you can call to speak with someone who will understand https://www.heysigmund.com/about/if-you-need-more-support/. Know how important and loved you are.

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Apsawra L

Hello Karen,

You’ve done a great job! Nicely shared the tips to “What to Say (and Not to Say) to Someone Who’s Depressed”. These will be helpful to all of us.

Thanks for the share…

Apsawra Liza
Project Coordinator
LifeOng.Com

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Michael L

I have always wondered what I could say to someone with depression who is experiencing something that I never have and cannot empathize with. I agree that it is important to be a rock in a person’s life. I’ll definitely take your advice and offer to help in specific ways.

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Alessandro

I’ve heard things such as depression is impossible at young ages, is it true? I’ve saw sites which say otherwise, which one is true?

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Liz C

Hi there
I’ve struggled with mental health and addiction in my life. I’m in recovery and try everyday to live a healthy lifestyle.
My question is, I have a neighbor who never leaves the house. Boxes pile up outside from deliveries and every so often there will be glimpes of her. Mostly I’m the summer when perhaps another neighbor has complained about her yard. Her elderly mother died a few years ago and although I have never met her I think of her often. Is there anything, as a stranger I could do to offer help? Even though I don’t know what her situation is?

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katie

maybe you could drop off a care package or some kind of gesture to show you care and then go from there, maybe try and find a common interest that you could talk about(like maybe give her a bag of ground coffee and ask if she’d like to get coffee sometime- maybe you could find a common thing to talk about like your town— im not sure that might be weird but the general idea is probably to make some sort of connection with her)
Good luck, its very kind of you to be worried about her even though you don’t really know her

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CB

What are you suppose to do if you are incapable of helping someone’s current situation in life that is causing them to be depressed. My girlfriend is being crushed by school responsibilities, health problems, family problems, and identity issues. All of which she, nor me, can change. She tries to talk to me and acts like I have some way or words that could help her, but I do not know what to say or do, and it only makes her feel more alone and depressed as a result…

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Leviticus B

I was happy to see that you suggested going for a walk with someone. It’s interesting that exercise helps with both physical activity and social contact. When I walk with someone I find that the conversations are more relaxed since I’m not looking straight at someone all the time. They also give you the outdoors to enjoy when there is a pause in a conversation. I think that walking and also reading self-help books might be able to curb depression.

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Jada

HELLO, My name is jada. My friend Braulio is very depressed and is always sad. He needs all the help and support he can get.

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Briana

I had a car accident and the PA came into the room and called me hopeless. I went for pain management. HE did no testing and I only saw him twice in D Daytona Beach, Fl. I consider that comment uncalled for. How can a professional be allowed to act like that?

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Karen Young

Briana that should never have happened to you. The comment was cruel, thoughtless, and uninformed. Unfortunately, not all professionals who are trained in the human body are trained in the human mind, spirit and experience. I hope the next professional you have to deal with will be more sensitive, kinder, more understanding and more curious about your experience.

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kaylie

I don’t know what to tell my boyfriend he is acting different and sad and saying ” I feel nothing Like theres a hole in me.” He’s going to the marines and bootcamp in October. He told me yesterday when i asked him what was wrong and he told me ” I don’t know, just stuff parents say and they are turning true.”
I think he’s just very overwhelmed because he works out 19 hours a week(everyday for about 3-4 hours). Has to go to PT which is training for marines. Arguments with parents at home. And with school..

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kaylie

Also has a job on saturdays which he hates and sucks it up because he doesn’t wanna quit. they don’t let him eat or take any breaks it’s from 6am and gets home at 8pm

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Anonymous

I have been in the military for about 2 and a half years now and I have found that people who struggled with depression before, probably would’ve been better off seeking help before they join the military, if they join at all.

Military life is extremely stressful. Although your boyfriend certainly works hard now, he’s not going to be slowing down at all. Being away from loved ones for months at a time has been the most difficult for me, personally.

I would suggest trying to talk to your boyfriend more about this to see how he really feels and why he says things like this.

Military folk are usually trained not to talk about their problems (no matter what anyone the military says, this is a true fact). I would suggest approaching speaking with him carefully, and trying to ease into any conversation about depression/suicide/whatever you think is bothering him.

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Sasha Cohen

This is a great blog post. I have been struggling with personal issues for 10 years and have found reaching out online to seek the advice of others has helped me through the good and bad time. I have always had relationship issues and have started to follow the advice of Dr. Robi Ludwig. I saw her on a tv show once and I really appreciated her take on current psychological issues. She has written two books but my favorite book is “Your Best Age is Now” I have read it and loved it! I highly recommend it to anyone out there struggling.

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Jazz

I told my grandmother that soon I’ll be dead, that I’m suicidal. She old me that it’s a sin and that I need to get over my problems because life isn’t so bad. She then told my mother and my mother said ‘what does she have to be depressed about she has a roof over her head’ as if the roof is the cause of my depression. I absolutely hate every inch of me and the will to live is zero to none! I attempted suicide when I was 13 and my mother and father knew but my father just mocked me and shoved a razor in my face and told me to kill myself then. I also ended up in the psych ward for another suicide attempt and was diagnosed with major depression. My mother just shrugged it off and when I asked if I could see a psychiatrist she snapped at me. I’m 21 and have lost any hope that I ever had. I don’t know what else to do, I’m still so dependent on my mother as far as shelter, food and transportation, which makes me feel even more worthless for my age, but that means I have no way of getting professional help unless I include my mother and she thinks (along with the rest of my family) that professionals are a waste of time and money. I don’t know what else to do. I want to die so badly, one of these days I’m just going jump in front of a car driving fast on the street on my way to work, in hopes that I die and that I don’t harm whoever was driving, or just take a bunch of sleeping pills and pain pills with alcohol, that’s actually better because it doesn’t involve anyone but me. Ugh I’m so messed up, why am I alive!

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Hey Sigmund

Oh Jazz there are many people who don’t understand depression but there are so many more who do. It can be really frightening when someone you love says they don’t want to live anymore – I have had people say that to me. It’s really scary when that happens and some people react really badly. This doesn’t mean you aren’t loved. It means some people aren’t very good at knowing what to do.

I understand your feelings of hopelessness and sadness. I really do. Please go to this link and get in touch with someone on one of the suicide lines listed here https://www.heysigmund.com/about/if-you-need-more-support/. They will be able to give you the support that you need. You don’t have to do this alone. You are too important to feel like this and to go through this feeling alone. Otherwise, go to this site http://www.befrienders.org. If you enter your country, it will tell you where you can go to find support. I want you to know how much you matter. I love that you have written in and I love that you took the time to comment here. Your voice is so important and there will be people who read your words and feel less alone. You make a difference. I promise you that. Please keep fighting. There is a future version of you who is desperate for you not to give up. This is one point in time and I know things feel awful now but they won’t always. I also need you to know that suicide never destroys one life. There are people who love you – your father, your mother, your grandmother who will never get over losing you. One of the reasons they react the way they do is because they don’t know how else to react. That’s kind of understandable when you think about it. The thought of someone you love wanting to not be here any more is unbearable – it’s easier to pretend it’s not true. If something happened to you it would change their lives, and the lives of anyone else who loves you forever. It is difficult to see that now, I understand that, but it’s true. Please go to the site I have linked to in this comment. Things can get better for you, and you don’t have to do this alone.You have a purpose for being here. You might not know what that is yet, but there is one. You are important and you matter.

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Melanie

Dear Jazz, I just read your situation. I hope things are going better. I’ve suffered with depression off and on for more years than you are old.
One of the most frustrating aspects is not being able to explain to others the immense pain you feel. I finally came to the grips that no one can understand depression unless they have experienced the viciousness of it. That’s when you have to depend on God and yourself to provide you some relief. I know it seems impossible to help yourself when you feel that miserable, but you MUST seek the help you need. Don’t listen to others that are ignorant to the illness you are suffering from. You are very important ! You will get through this! You don’t believe it now but there is so much help out there. If you can’t do anything else today, please visit or call one of the links listed in the previous posts. It only takes a minute. They can lead you in the right direction but only you can get the ball rolling.
You are not alone in this!
Love you! The pain will get better!

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Marge Wisniewski

I forgot to mention that I am in the midst of a depression…for 9 years, so, yeah, I can feel his pain. Should help with the empathy!!!

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marge wisniewski

This was timely for me today. I have a 34 year old son that lives in another state. He is an alchoholic in treatment and going through divorce. His wife of one year didn’t know how to live with him…he is also clinically depressive. How do I help from here?

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Hey Sigmund

It’s so hard watching someone you love go through this. If he’s going through treatment, he’ll be in good hands. If you can be a supporting, loving presence for him, without being judgemental or critical, you can’t do much more than that. I know how frustrating it is not to be able to do any more than that, but it’s his journey now, and if he’s in treatment, he’ll be working hard. Your son is lucky to have you.

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Marge Wisniewski

Thank you for saying that. At this point, my daughter and I are flying out this morning to be with him. Yesterday was bad. He had to turn in his divorce papers and he was devastated. I don’t know how he will react when we get there. He is still drinking and he knows that we want him to quit. He was in the hospital last spring with pancreatitis and the doc said he would die soon if he didn’t quit.
Please pray for us as we minister to him.

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Mary LN

Why do I go into a deep depression when someone gives me a negative or sarcastic response?

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Jana

I don’t know much about depression so don’t take my word for it but I feel like when humans get a negative response to something they say we get sad and depression sees a chance to make it 10 times worse. I have a friend who is dealing with depression but he is far away in another country and I feel like I can’t help much. I feel like just texting him once a day asking how he is and what is going on is helping a lot. Also telling him that I am there for him whenever he needs me. The thing is that most people don’t know how to deal with their emotions or how to express them and that’s why a lot of people feel like they are alone in the world. I myself though I was alone for a long time even though it wasn’t depression I felt bad.

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Linda S

Blessed is the person that has a friend or family member of this nature. In my case it’s not that way. So many people don’t want to hear your problems , in alreality you become a burden and suffer alone behind the walls of your home that is in desperate need of repair. Thanks be to God I have a husband who is understandi and will go beyound that extra mile for me, he is human carrying such a heavy load with work, Financial problems also caring for my 3 an 11 yr of grandsons. Nevertheless. God’s grace is sufficient hopefully the sun will shine again. We’re still blessed.

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