What To Say And Not To Say To A Depressed Friend/colleague
Sometimes it is very difficult to know what to say in any situation, let alone if a colleague or friend is feeling particularly vulnerable, anxious or depressed. You may worry that you will do more harm than good or try to suggest things, which worked for you when you werent feeling your best. However, this is a hugely complicated situation and must be treated as such. Positive words help but more often than not showing that you care, that you understand and that you will be there are what most people want to hear. If you do sometimes find it hard to know what to say, here are some of the key phrases you should definitely avoid:
Its Ok To Not Feel Ok
Whether your friend or loved one is currently getting treatment or hasnt received a formal diagnosis, its OK if theyre not OK. Everyone has good and bad days. We all deserve some grace.
Sometimes, they might feel shame if theyre experiencing difficult feelings, so it might help to remind them that its OK to feel that way. Making it safe for them to express and sit with their real feelings in your presence can go a long way.
And just because right now is bad doesnt mean later will be.
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What To Say Instead: What Youre Going Through Is Real And You Shouldnt Feel Bad About It
Whether or not youve dealt with depression first hand, you can still be a good friend to someone with depression without having suffered with it yourself. Acknowledging that your friend or loved one is suffering and yet reinforcing that they shouldnt feel bad for going through a bad time will help them to feel supported, and not judged.
Do You Need To Talk About Your Depression Im Here When Youre Ready
Although you cannot force the person to speak, they may feel more open to talking if they know youre there for them.
If you havent spoken to that person in a long time or havent told you about their mental state, you can say that you heard they are going through a difficult time and that you are available if they need to talk.
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Depression Can Make People Withdraw
It may feel like the depressed friend is pulling away from the friendship. But this is usually a symptom of the depression itself. In his 2017 Ted Talk, comedian, and storyteller Bill Bernat spoke about his own clinical depression and said, Depression doesnt diminish a persons desire to connect with other people, just their ability.1
A person who is depressed may feel unworthy of friendship. Dr. Saltz says, They may say, no one would want to be with me or I have no energy to engage in conversation but that is the chemical depression talking.
Depression may cause a person to push away the friends that are trying to be supportive. Again, this is most likely the depression talking and not the friends actual feelings. Caroline Leaf, a clinical psychologist explains, People can be difficult when they are depressed, but we should not take this personally, which often happens when one friend is depressed and tends to lash out at the other friend. This person may not be aware that what they are doing is wrong, or what is going on inside them, or they may not even care, she says. Or they may even be asking for help, but in a really roundabout and confusing way.
Help Them Find Support
Your friend may not be aware theyre dealing with depression, or they may be unsure how to reach out for support.
Even if they know therapy could help, it can be daunting to search for a therapist and make an appointment.
If your friend seems interested in counseling, offer to help them review potential therapists. You can help your friend list things to ask potential therapists and things they want to mention in their first session.
Encouraging them and supporting them to make that first appointment can be so helpful if theyre having a hard time with it.
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What You Can Say
For a long time, no one really talked about depression at all. Now were working hard to change that and we need to learn how to talk about depression in the right way. You cant help someone with depression in any meaningful way without talking to them about it. Thats why its so important to have the courage to speak up and find your words.
Taking Care Of Yourself Too
One of the key parts of helping a depressed friend is to be sympathetic but not empathetic. Dr. Saltz says, You want your friend to know that you understand that he feels bad without allowing the depression itself to pull you in.
When supporting a friend with depression, try not to take what they say or do personally. Understand that their actions or reactions to your kindness may be influenced by the depression itself. Dr. Leaf says, Rather than seeing the situation as this person is attacking me and how can they do this after all I have done for them!, realize that the other persons thoughts and actions may be distorted because of what they are going through.
If possible, dont go it alone. Supporting a person with depression can be very draining so its best not to have one sole caregiver. If you feel overwhelmed or that your friend is too reliant on you, resist the urge to abandon them. Instead, enlist the help of their friends and family to create a support system they can reach out to. Also, a dont take it upon yourself to act as their therapist. Friendship is important but it is not a substitute for professional help.
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Remind Them You’re There For Them
Depression can feel as though no one understands what you are feeling or even cares enough to try to understand, which can be isolating and overwhelming.
Research has shown that people tend to withdraw when they are depressed, so reaching out to a friend in need is an important first step. If your friend isn’t ready to talk, continue to offer your support by spending time with them and try to check in regularly, either in person, on the phone, or by text.
When you reach out to a friend, letting them know that you are going to be there every step of the way can be very reassuring.
You may not quite know what this will look like at first, but know that just reminding your friend that you are someone they can lean on can mean the world.
Give Them Time To Talk And Listen Without Interrupting
You must give people who are dealing with depression time to talk about their feelings.
You might be concerned that they are just getting worse, but if you listen to them, they will feel better.
Listening without interrupting them can help them feel better.
Its also important to remember that individuals may have different reasons for depression-like trauma or grief, so be patient with them and dont judge their experience.
Its best to say, I love you and its not your fault that youre feeling this way. You can take as long as you need and when youre ready to talk, Ill listen and understand you.
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Never Say You Shouldn’t Feel That Way
Again, this can be considered gaslighting and is simply not helpful. “Remember, their depression is not the same as the clothes they wear. If you want to offer advice over things your friend/loved one intentionally chooses, then give them fashion advice, a nutritional discovery, or your latest/greatest stock pick. But don’t tell them they should not be depressed,” says Talley.
If youre having a particularly hard time being empathetic, then take the time to find some resources and read up on depression online and equip yourself before having a heart to heart with someone who is suffering through depression.
Encouraging The Person To Get Help
While you cant control someone elses recovery from depression, you can start by encouraging the depressed person to seek help. Getting a depressed person into treatment can be difficult. Depression saps energy and motivation, so even the act of making an appointment or finding a doctor can seem daunting to your loved one. Depression also involves negative ways of thinking. The depressed person may believe that the situation is hopeless and treatment pointless.
Because of these obstacles, getting your loved one to admit to the problemand helping them see that it can be solvedis an essential step in depression recovery.
If your friend or family member resists getting help:
Suggest a general check-up with a physician. Your loved one may be less anxious about seeing a family doctor than a mental health professional. A regular doctors visit is actually a great option, since the doctor can rule out medical causes of depression. If the doctor diagnoses depression, they can refer your loved one to a psychiatrist or psychologist. Sometimes, this professional opinion makes all the difference.
Offer to help the depressed person find a doctor or therapist and go with them on the first visit.Finding the right treatment provider can be difficult, and is often a trial-and-error process. For a depressed person already low on energy, it is a huge help to have assistance making calls and looking into the options.
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What You Can Say To Show Your Support
Lets say you want to help a friend with depression. There are a lot of things you can do to show your support, but knowing the right thing to say is important.
One of the ways to ask how theyre doing is I care about you and Im here if you ever need anything!
You can also give them lots of hugs, thank them for talking to you, or just keep them company when they need it most.
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The World Health Organization estimates that over 264 million people suffer from depression globally. This estimate cuts across all ages, meaning you likely know someone battling this mental illness if you arent yourself.
Depressed people are our friends, our siblings, our parents, our partners and they deserve all the support they can get.
When you dont know what to do to make a depressed loved one feel better, it can be numbing. You want more than anything to cheer them up, yet, most of the time, you cant help but feel powerless. Or worse, you end up making your partner feel worse.
Being in a relationship with a partner that gets depressed a lot can be incredibly challenging, no one prepares for that. As much as you want to support him, youd definitely prefer if he was mostly happy all the time.
What Ive come to learn, however, is that one should never underestimate the power of words. When it comes to depression, especially your partners, there is such a thing as the right and wrong things to say.
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What To Say To Your Friend Who Is Depressed
While the pandemic itself is a severe health crisis, there is another underlying health issue that is deserving of attention as well. More than a third of Americans have reported feeling depressed and anxious as a result of the pandemic according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics. If you know a loved one or a friend who may seem more down than usual, Westmeds Dr. Sandy Marantz, LCSW, PhD shares some advice on how to reach out and help them.
I Thought You Were Strong
For some people, depression can truly be overwhelming and can stop them from doing daily tasks with ease. Putting someone down and accusing them of being weak will only make the situation worse. It is best to just say, im here for you in this case rather than comment on their strength of character.
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Things To Say To Someone Who Is Depressed
Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions globally, with over 270 million adults living with depression.
It is often characterized by poor concentration, excessive guilt or low self-worth, hopelessness about the future, suicidal thoughts, changes in appetite or weight, and feeling especially tired or low in energy.
Knowing how to speak and what to say to a depressed person can go a long way to helping them feel better about themselves. It may feel awkward at first, but dont be too emotional or dramatic only try to communicate from a place of understanding and acceptance.
So, what do you say to someone suffering from depression?
How To Talk To Someone About Depression
Sometimes it is hard to know what to say when speaking to someone about depression. You might fear that if you bring up your worries the person will get angry, feel insulted, or ignore your concerns. You may be unsure what questions to ask or how to be supportive.
If you dont know where to start, the following suggestions may help. But remember that being a compassionate listener is much more important than giving advice. You dont have to try to fix your friend or family member you just have to be a good listener. Often, the simple act of talking face to face can be an enormous help to someone suffering from depression. Encourage the depressed person to talk about their feelings, and be willing to listen without judgment.
Dont expect a single conversation to be the end of it. Depressed people tend to withdraw from others and isolate themselves. You may need to express your concern and willingness to listen over and over again. Be gentle, yet persistent.
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What To Do If You Think A Friend Is Considering Suicide
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, help is out there. Reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255 for free, confidential support 24/7.
Suicide isnt inevitable. We can all help prevent suicide.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline offers you a toolkit for supporting people on social media, down to specific platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They help you determine how to identify someone in need of support and who to contact within the social media community if youre worried about their safety.
You Just Need To Get Out And Meet Some People
A person who is feeling very down might not want to talk to other people. For a person who feels they have no friends, this is a very alienating comment.
A person cannot just decide to have more friends or that they have social anxiety and then instantaneously be able to talk to people, particularly strangers.
It would be like telling someone with an illness that they just need to think positively about being healed.
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How To Help Someone With Depression
Dr. Dowd encourages, If they express needing or wanting help, suggest to them setting up an appointment with their PCP. They can get referrals to a therapist or psychiatrist or maybe their PCP feels comfortable treating the depression. There are also a host of websites and national organizations that can also help inform someone about depression if they are not ready to seek help. Suggest the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or the National Alliance on Mental Illness, both well-known organizations.
Know The Warning Signs Of Suicide
The risk of suicide is high in those living with depression. No matter what you say or what you do to help your friend, they may still experience suicidal thoughts and feelings. Make sure to be on the lookout for warning signs of suicide and know when to seek help.
Some signs to watch for include:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Expressing that they feel like a burden to others
- Feelings of extreme hopelessness and sadness
- Withdrawing from friends and loved ones
- Sudden mood swings
- Giving away possessions or making a will
- Making ambiguous statements about not being around in the future
- Open discussions about suicide or having a suicide plan
- Previous suicide attempts
If you spot warning signs of suicide, you should talk to your loved one and ask them to speak with a mental health professional. When there is an immediate risk, you should remove dangerous items from the home, make sure you don’t leave them alone, and get help from a medical professional immediately.
If you or someone you love are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
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