It’s very important to know what to say when interacting with someone who is struggling with depression, but very often we have no idea how to be supportive to a friend or family member who is going through depression. In this post, I’ll be discussing what NOT to say when speaking to someone who is experiencing clinical depression, which is a severe mental health diagnosis that cannot be minimized into something that will just “pass.” I will also discuss what attitudes and actions can be most helpful when speaking with a depressed individual.
Just as with diabetes, there is a biological origin to clinical depression. A simple definition of depression is that it affects the brain’s ability to appreciate life. This is a gross oversimplification, but there isn’t space or time here to explain everything about depression. If you have time, look up Robert Sapolsky, a Stanford University professor, and his talk on depression which can be found on YouTube.
Anyway, the point of this post isn’t on the biology or even the psychology of depression; instead, it aims to focus on how NOT to talk to someone in a depressive state as well as how TO talk to someone in a depressive state – by sharing how not to talk to someone with depression, I hope to dispel some common myths surrounding what depression is as I then share what might be a better way of approaching someone suffering from depression.[Related: 20 Things Not to Say to Someone With PTSD]
What NOT to say:
“What’s your problem?”
This is wrong because it shows no empathy.
“This will pass in a few weeks – just hang in there!”
This is wrong because although true for some people, it shows a lack of appreciation for just how tough a depressive episode can be.
“But it’s all in your mind”
This is wrong because depression is a disease that affects the biological, psychological, and social aspects of a person’s life. Telling someone it’s “all in their mind” doesn’t help them and can lead to negative outcomes.
What TO do/say:
It’s very important to let your family member or friend know that you’re there with them and for them. Even something as simple as saying “I care” can help.
“I’ll be there for you if you want to talk because I do care.”
The simple fact of being there with a friend can be extremely helpful.
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
This is a great approach as it puts the ball back in their court while simultaneously letting them know you care and are there for them.
“It’s okay to feel this way.”
Just letting them know that you aren’t judging them can help remind your depressed friend or family member that it IS okay to feel depressed. You are reducing the stigma they may feel by telling them this.
Although it can sometimes feel like you need to solve your friend’s or family member’s depression, this can lead well-intentioned people to say the wrong thing at the moment. In fact, sitting there in silence and solidarity with a depressed person can be more helpful to them than a meaningless platitude.
Schimelpfenning, N. (2018). What to say when someone is depressed. Retrieved from: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-to-say-when-someone-is-depressed-1067474
“Psych Central Staff” (2016). Worst things to say to someone who’s depressed. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/worst-things-to-say-to-someone-whos-depressed/