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What to Say to Someone Who’s Depressed

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on September 08, 2021

Depression is a chronic health condition that requires specialized treatment. Depression extends beyond short-term grief or sadness that resolves on its own. It can be very difficult to move past without help.

Understanding Depression

If you have a friend who hasn’t been themselves lately, they may be battling depression. Depression is common for people who are grieving or going through a difficult time. It’s also possible that there isn’t an obvious reason for someone's depression. Here’s what you need to know about depression:

  • It is a disease.
  • Depression doesn’t mean a person is lazy.
  • The condition is very common.
  • It can be caused by medical problems, like an underactive thyroid.
  • It can be caused by medications like blood pressure medicine.
  • Suicidal thoughts or talk should be taken seriously.

Ways to Help

If you want to talk to a friend or family member about depression, here are tips for how to address your concerns:

  • Explain why you are worried.
  • Speak with a calm and caring tone of voice.
  • Ask questions and be ready to listen.
  • Ask if you can help them seek treatment.
  • Share depression resources. ‌

Avoid minimizing their feelings. When we try to encourage our family and friends, we sometimes use phrases that feel dismissive. Try to avoid saying things like:

  • We all have problems.
  • Everyone feels sad sometimes.
  • Let me tell you something similar that happened to me.‌
  • You’ll start to feel better soon.‌

You don’t want to compare how your friend or family member feels to other people. Each situation is unique, and each person’s feelings are unique. When you make a comparison, you make their feelings less valid. Instead, you can say things like:

  • How do you feel today? 
  • I’m sorry that you’re having a tough time. 
  • I can see how much you're hurting now.‌

Don’t be too cheerful. You may want to be so happy that your joy rubs off on the person you love. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. When you try to compensate by acting happier than usual, you diminish the validity of their feelings. ‌

Instead, you can try to be emotionally neutral. This way, you allow space for your friend or family member to feel what they are feeling. Let them lead the flow of conversation. Try not to take over by telling stories or talking about something else as a distraction. You can repeat back what your friend shares to acknowledge that you understand what they are sharing.‌

Be patient. Don’t force your friend to talk if they aren’t ready. Your loved one may still be processing their feelings. They may not want to talk about anything, but you can still offer comfort in silence. When they're ready to talk, they will know you’re available and may feel comfortable sharing. If they just need to cry, let them do so without asking questions. You can say things like:

  • It’s ok that you feel sad.
  • It’s ok to cry.
  • I am here to listen if you want to talk. If not, I can just be here with you.‌

Offer encouragement. If you see your friend or family member making positive progress, point it out kindly. Avoid being sarcastic and saying things like:

  • Wow, you finally got dressed.
  • It looks like you decided to clean up some.‌
  • You haven’t done your makeup in so long. ‌

Instead, you can acknowledge their efforts by saying things like:

  • I’m so happy you’re up early. Can I bring you some breakfast?
  • Your house looks so good, and I know that it took a lot of work.‌
  • Do you feel any better today?

Be ready for negativity. Your loved one may have some days that are worse than others. They may lash out at you or ignore you. Continue reaching out and showing you care without being pushy. You can say things like:

  • I’m always here if you need to talk.
  • I’ll reach out again tomorrow to see if there’s anything you need.‌
  • I’m sorry you’re having a particularly bad day.

Tips for Overcoming Depression

Depression can feel impossible. You don’t have to give in to depression and think that things won’t get better. Instead, use these tips to improve your outlook:

  • Get help from a mental health professional.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) if you feel helpless.
  • Maintain activities that you once enjoyed.
  • Keep up with friends and family members by talking regularly. 
  • Get some exercise, even if you just go for a short walk.
  • Keep a routine of getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy diet.
  • Adjust your expectations so you can cope with depression.
  • Don’t drink or do drugs as a way of treating your depression.‌
  • Search for local depression resources. 
WebMD Feature

Sources

SOURCES:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Let’s Talk About Depression.”

University of Michigan Medicine: “Depression: Helping Someone Get Treatment.”

White Swan Foundation: “How to talk to someone who has depression.”

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