What To Say To Someone Who Is Depressed

Photo: Chanintorn.v / Shutterstock
woman comforting man who is depressed

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, so it's likely that you've encountered a situation where you wanted to console someone dealing with depression. Unfortunately, it's not always easy finding the right words when it comes to what to say to someone who is depressed.

It's likely that as long as it comes from a place of compassion and acceptance, then your depressed friend, co-worker, or family member will appreciate you.

When talking to a person with depression, knowing how to support them through conversation when they are in a crisis is extremely helpful and your words can remind them they aren't alone.

If you support your friend, you might even help relieve their depression as research has shown high-quality social connections help reduce depression symptoms. 

RELATED: The Different Types Of Depression & How To Know If You're Depressed

What are ways to approach someone who is depressed?

When approaching a person who is depressed, you should make sure you aren't accusing them, blaming them, or make light of what they are feeling.

You can comfort someone who is unhappy by offering a helping hand and a shoulder to cry on. Social support has been proven to provide a depressed person with a protective factor and it can also help anxiety.

According to Clinical Hypnotherapist and Relationship Coach Keya Murthy, you should let a depressed person or friend know that you are thinking of them and when you are free to catch up with what’s going on and what excites them.

"Mention a time in the past when both of you were in happier places and times were good. Mention those memories in a cheerful way and not with despondence. Good memories of the past lift people up," Murthy explains. "Also, talk of your plans in which you would love to include them. This makes them feel you care and they belong."

1. Ask them if they want to talk.

Reaching out to just talk to them, in general, is the first step. Let them choose if they are ready to talk to you and if they do you need to be there to comfort them and be understanding.

2. Listen without interrupting. 

Listening to a depressed person can help make their mental and emotional pain more bearable. They can talk to you knowing you're a friend who is there to listen, learn, and help, which is a bit different than talking to a doctor or therapist.

3. Ask if you can help.

Friends can actually help to ease the burden of depression. If you have a friend dealing with depression, ask them if they need any help with anything like tidying up their room, or cooking dinner. Whatever it is that you think they might need help, don't feel bad to ask. 

Instead of asking "is there anything I can do?", ask using concrete statements like "could I come over and help with dinner?" or "could I come over and do laundry for you?"

Suggest first and then listen. If they have something else in mind, then be there to help them out with whatever they think they might need and that you know you can reasonably follow up on.

RELATED: 50 Depression Quotes That Capture What Being Depressed Really Feels Like

How should you speak to someone who is depressed?

When speaking to your friend who is depressed or a depressed person, you could ask them through simple words how they are doing and what they are doing to manage their symptoms.

If you feel as if they could use some extra help, it's okay to suggest speaking with a doctor to get more help from a professional.

1. Speak to them with compassion and support.

Every word you say to your depressed friend should be in a supportive and compassionate tone. You need to be careful with your language as saying the right words and in the right tone can actually make them feel better.

Through your words, you can let them know how important they are to you and that you're trying to understand where they are coming from.

2. Speak to them through your body language.

Sometimes you don't even need to say anything when talking to a depressed person because they just want someone who can listen and communicate through simple gestures. Let them know you're listening through eye contact, head nodding, and facing your body and feet towards them.

If appropriate, a simple hug can even help someone feel better.

3. Speak to them as a friend, not a therapist.

This is probably one of the most important things to keep in mind because by speaking to them as a friend they know they can trust and vent their feelings to you with no judgment and no commentary on what the deeper meaning is or whatever.

You're not a mental health professional and therefore there's no need to speak to them in that way. Even though your words can't cure them, they can help. 

RELATED: 7 Surprising Things That Make Your Depression Even Worse

What to Say to Someone Who is Struggling with Depression

1. Ask them how they are managing their depression.

By asking depressed people how they are managing and dealing with their depression, you can get a sense of where you think they are in terms of needing professional help. You can only do so much before even you find it hard to help them. 

Tell someone who is sad that depression is a medical illness, it's not a flaw or weakness that they are have brought upon themselves. Remind them that asking for help can actually be a sign of strength.

If they end up getting treatment or medication and if you've noticed any improvements, let them know so they can realize that it's working. By doing this, you can motivate your depressed friend and let them know that they are getting better. 

2. Tell them you understand (but only if you actually do).

When talking to your depressed friend, let them know if you've also dealt with symptoms of depression so they know you can relate and empathize. Let them know and how you were able to handle those problems and stressors. 

Getting advice from a trusted and loving friend is sometimes more meaningful than advice from a therapist or a doctor.

3. Emphasize hope and encourage talking with a doctor. 

If you're wondering what to say to someone who is depressed, you should emphasize that they are lots of other people with depression who suffer from the same symptoms and that they aren't alone. 

By emphasizing hope, you can reassure them that there is light at the end of the tunnel, all they need is a helping hand. Remind them that the helping hand they might be seeking isn't only yours, it's also through the help of a medical professional and their medical advice. 

Research has proven that depression treatments are a very important part of recovering from depression. Help them feel less ashamed and more empowered to ask for help from a doctor and that they are very brave for taking the next step to seek professional help.

What should you not say to someone who is depressed?

1. "Everyone gets depressed."

Never say this to a depressed person or friend because it can sound very dismissive and like you're not even acknowledging their serious mental illness that is constantly affecting their everyday life. Not everyone is depressed or gets depressed.

2. "Hang in there, it'll pass."

This is also another terrible thing to say as depression isn't like a regular sickness that will pass in a couple of weeks, it's all mental and it will take treatment in serious cases to be able to recover and successfully manage.

Chances are they've been feeling so badly for a while and if they are just now asking for help, it's because their depression hasn't gotten better, only worse.

3. "Don't think negative, only positive thoughts."

If only depression was this simple. You simply cannot and must not tell a depressed person this because it's extremely rude and very cruel. This statement is suggesting that depression is simply a choice and that you can manifest it to go away. 

RELATED: What It Feels Like To Have Anxiety And Depression At The Same Time

What are suicide warning signs to watch for?

There are three different categories of suicide warning signs that you need to look out for. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, those signs are talk, behavior, and mood.

1. Talk.

It's important when listening to your depressed friend or a depressed person to look for suicidal ideations in certain things they might say.

Suicidal ideations are suicidal thoughts or ideas that are mentioned in speech such as talking about hopelessness or having no reason to go on living with depression, exhibiting reckless behavior and risky behavior that could get you killed, and avoiding all social interactions with people. 

2. Behavior.

When depressed people feel suicidal they might express that feeling through the following behaviors, which are also indicators of suicide risk.

These include increased use or misuse of substances, searching for methods to kill yourself, withdrawing from all activities with people, visiting people or calling to say goodbye, giving away their possessions, and increased aggression, fatigue, and sleep. 

3. Mood.

Depression is often the most popular condition that's linked with suicide. 

Increased major depressive episodes, anxiety, and irritability are all moods that are associated with suicide risk. A person who is considering suicide may present one or more of these moods. 

According to Murthy, some other obvious signs of suicide are "either the person has lost a lot of weight or has gained a lot of weight, they have dark rings under their eyes, they do not brush their teeth or hair, basically, their attention to their physical health is almost non-existent to nill or in the negative. If their body has bruises, cuts, or any form of lacerations that is definitely a cry for help."

What should someone do if they see the person they are trying to help is exhibiting these signs?

We can all help to prevent suicide if we recognize the signs. If you realize these signs, according to Murthy, you should be showing up in their space and hang out with them.

"Treat them to something nice that they used to enjoy, whether it is a good meal, movie, time together, indoors or outdoors. Go for a pleasant stroll or a rigorous hike, whatever the person likes do it," she explains. "A person becomes unhappy because they feel they are alone and the world is weighing in on their shoulder. Let them lean in on you and believe that you care."

If you don't know how to help them then you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline which offers a toolkit for supporting people who you might think are at risk of suicide.

If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, call SAMHSA's National Helpline (1-800-662-4357) for free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information. For free and confidential emotional support, call 800-273-TALK no matter what problems or type of stress you’re dealing with.

RELATED: 10 Things To Do When You’re Ready To Overcome Your Depression And Anxiety

Megan Hatch is a writer at YourTango who covers pop culture, love and relationships, and self-care.