What TO Say, And What NOT To Say To A Depressed Person

Most people have days or decades of being depressed. Depression is painful and distancing. It may well be awkward to talk with someone in a depressed state. Because of this awkwardness many people do not know how to talk with a depressed person. This discomfort can lead to saying inappropriate and not helpful things.

Before getting into specific comments let me offer you this overview of things to consider:

  1. Be prepared to listen openly without judgment. The depressed person is feeling vulnerable and needs to feel safe psychologically. Feelings just are. Listening to them and acknowledging them as valid is the first step in helping a person heal.
  2. Honor the person’s right to feel their emotions whatever they are. Do not try to change or fix the person’s perspective.
  3. Be supportive and affirming. Point out whatever you can to affirm your faith in them and give them a renewed sense of self confidence and hope.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask safety related questions. It is a way of expressing care and support.
  5. Ask them what you can do to help. Depressed people often feel hopeless and do not reach out for help.

The following are things NOT to say to a depressed person:

“There’s always someone worse off than you are.  No one ever said life was fair. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. So you’re depressed; aren’t you always.  It’s your own fault. Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days. Haven’t you grown tired of all this me-me-me stuff yet? Suck it up. Cheer up. You have to be strong for your kids. It’s all in your head. Just think, there are others worse off than you. What’s your problem? Quit whining. You just need to give yourself a kick in the rear. I thought you were stronger than that. Have you been praying, reading the Bible? You just need to get out more. Get a grip. You don’t look depressed. Why don’t you smile more? You brought it on yourself. Your problems aren’t that big. You need a hobby. Well, we all have our cross to bear. You don’t like feeling that way, so change it.”     The list of inappropriate comments could go on and on. This should give you a general sense of what NOT to say to a depressed person.

On a positive note, “less is more”, but there are some basic statements that can be made to a depressed person that are helpful and supportive:

  1. “I’m here for you. You’re not alone in this.
  2. You matter, you are important to me.
  3. Let me help. Do you want a hug?
  4. You are not going crazy.
  5. There is hope.
  6. When this is all over, I’ll still be here and so will you.
  7. I can’t really understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion.
  8. I’m not going to abandon you.
  9. I love you (if you mean it)
  10. We’ll get through this together.”

Depression is challenging, both for the person going through it, as well as for that person’s significant others. Being able to be present to a depressed person in a caring way, saying helpful things, takes some effort but it is well worth it. You can be a part of a person’s moving through depression and on into a happier state of mind.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”  Socrates

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