Are you supporting a loved one experiencing depression? It can be draining and difficult to know what to say. The Banyans has helped support hundreds of people and their loved ones navigate the hardships of mental health. Learn what to say (and what not to say!) to someone who is depressed.
This article may be helpful if you are…
- Supporting a loved one who is experiencing depression;
- Unsure what to say to someone who is depressed;
- Interested in becoming more sensitive when discussing depression with others;
- Looking for resources about depression.
How to help someone who is depressed
Watching our loved ones experience with depression can be heartbreaking. They may have lost elements of their personality you love, or struggle to see the value in their lives. It is not an easy journey for them or for the people they love.
The power of our words
Words are a powerful tool. A simple phrase can encourage someone to feel brave enough to seek help and continue to persevere despite overwhelming negative emotions.
It can be difficult to understand why our depressed loved ones can’t just “cheer up”. Although we want to, we might not know what to say. Instead, we may sit in silence, avoid the conversation or worse – say something that isn’t helpful at all.
Three tips for what to say when someone is depressed
When trying to help someone with depression, it can be helpful to make sure your words are aligned with the T.E.A acronym. This easy acronym is designed to help you know what to say to someone who is depressed.
Are my words thoughtful?
This is the most important consideration when talking to someone with depression. You may feel overwhelmed with some of the other suggestions in this article – but always come back to this one consideration: are my words thoughtful?
Your loved one will recognise the effort you are putting in to be intentional about the way you speak about depression and their emotions, even if you don’t necessarily understand.
Related: What is depression?
How to speak thoughtfully about depression
Thoughtful comments are ones empathetic and gentle. They take into consideration that your loved one is not always choosing to experience depression, but they are experiencing an illness. Thoughtful comments acknowledge your loved ones sensitive emotional state and try to help empower them to make their own decisions.
Thoughtful comments look like:
- Would going for a walk outside help you feel better? Or perhaps a shower?
- I noticed you haven’t eaten much today. Would it be helpful if I made you some toast?
- What are some activities that help you feel better? Could we do some together?
- Who else could we ask to help us work through how you’re feeling at the moment?
Why do thoughtful comments help?
Thoughtful comments avoid invalidating or minimising the severity of a person’s experience with depression. By making sure you are acknowledging how they feel in a gentle yet empowering way, your loved one will feel supported and cared for. This can relieve the burden enough for your loved to start making small yet positive actions.
Thoughtful comments can encourage your loved one to start making small and positive actions.
Are my words encouraging?
Although watching your loved one with depression may feel hopeless and, in some cases frustrating, encouragement goes a long way in helping them see the light at the end of the depression tunnel.
For some people, talking to someone with depression in an encouraging way might feel overly simple, or even condescending. However, when a person is experiencing depression, their brain is often “foggy” and they may have minimal motivation. A small and mundane task can be a huge accomplishment – and help or encouragement for those actions is much appreciated.
How to provide encouragement to someone with depression
Encouraging words often identify things that a person is doing well, rather than the things they are struggling with. On the more difficult days, your encouragements may look towards the future, and the hope that they can (and will) improve with the right support and sufficient time.
Encouraging comments look like:
- You are looking healthier today. Are you feeling a little bit better on the inside?
- Improvement is a slow process, but I know that you will keep getting better.
- I know you are doing your best to get well. What would be helpful for you right now?
- Do you feel like you could manage a small task today, like taking a shower?
- I know recovery can be tiring – but you have come so far from where you were. Together, we can get you through this.
Why is encouragement so helpful when talking to someone with depression?
One of the major defining characteristics of depression is a sense of hopelessness. Your loved one may feel like there is nothing worth living for, or unmotivated to achieve even simple tasks.
Encouraging words are a powerful antidote to despair. By providing your loved ones with reasons to be proud of themselves or reasons to look forward, you are being their eyes when their vision of the future is not as clear.
Are my words accurate?
If you are going to help your loved one, do some research to ensure that you are armed with the most up-to-date and correct suggestions.
You don’t want to suggest a plan that cannot be applied when they decide take action.
Some things to consider are:
- What professional support is available under Medicare and your private healthcare (if applicable)? Where are these therapists located, and what is the wait time?
- What resources may be helpful for your loved one, and how can they be accessed?
- Would a residential rehab program be a beneficial option for your loved one and their recovery?
- Research-based strategies for managing depression.
Download a free support guide for depression.
This free, downloadable PDF will help you start a conversation with a loved one about depression, and give you some trustworthy information about recovery.
What shouldn’t I say to someone with depression?
Although there are no right or wrong things to say, imagine putting yourself in the shoes of your depressed loved one. A good way to do this is to imagine you are going through a serious breakup, have the flu, or are a dependant child. Try to nurture your loved one the way you would in that situation.
“You’re overreacting. Just cheer up.” Or “It’s just in your head.”
In some ways, depression is a severe or extreme case of very normal emotions. However, depression is unrelenting and ongoing – often for two weeks or more.
Although there are many causes of depression, it is often a combination of biological, emotional and circumstantial factors. As such, it may be very difficult for your loved one to simply “cheer up”.
Instead of telling your loved one to cheer up, you could:
- Ask your loved one if they know why they feel the way they do and accept “I don’t know” as a legitimate answer.
- Explore potential triggers with them and see if there is anything you can do together to help them recover.
- Suggest small, manageable tasks in a thoughtful way. Remember – you want to empower them to make decisions and take control. You are simply there to encourage them towards improvement.
It is always recommended that your loved one seeks professional support if they are experiencing depression in any form.
Tell them about others who have had depression.
Although you may be trying to be helpful, it is not always beneficial to hear of a long-lost relative or mutual friend of a friend who has experienced depression. Try to focus on your loved ones personal experience and acknowledge that what they are going through is real and valid. If this feels scary, you may benefit from asking how they feel using colours or numbers instead of words.
For some people, talking with your loved one about their experience may hit a little too close to home, and can leave you feeling heartbroken, drained, afraid or ill-equipped to help them. It is also important that you receive the professional support you need to thrive, from a registered psychologist, support group or online forum of other support people going through the same thing.
Invest in yourself for the ones you love.
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With the skills given here, you are well-equipped to know what to say to someone with depression. The Banyans Support and Coaching packages for loved ones is a flexible, telehealth option for you to seek all the information you need to maintain your resilience in the midst of hardship. Click here to learn more about a Support and Coaching package.
Looking for more?
The Banyans website is full of resources, articles and other pieces of information that might help you and your loved one navigate the challenging experience of depression.