After years of being a psychiatrist and dealing with depression and other mental health issues, this is what I’ve learned: When someone is depressed, there are things you should say and things you shouldn’t say.
1) “I see that you’re having a hard time.” People feel better when they’re understood and not judged or analyzed.
2) “I’m here for you.” Depression is very isolating and alienating. Depressed people feel a sense of relief when they don’t feel so alone in their pain.
3) “You don’t have to figure this out on your own.” Depressed people often believe that they have to figure out on their own how to fix themselves. Then they feel guilty when inevitably, they can’t. They feel a lot less guilty and a lot less overwhelmed when they’re reassured that they don’t have to fix things all by themselves.
4) “Are you thinking of hurting yourself?” You should always ask a depressed person if they’re having suicidal thought or plans, because you could prevent a tragedy by getting them immediate help.
5) “Let’s get you some professional help.” Depression is a mental illness and it needs to be treated by qualified mental health professionals. Just like any illness, it won’t go away by thinking different thoughts or going for a brisk walk.
1) “Snap out of it.” This is an illness. They can’t just snap out of it. They need mental health help in the form of psychotherapy and often they’ll need medication as well to alleviate their symptoms and their suffering.
2) “You brought this on yourself.” People don’t make themselves depressed with a bad attitude. They become depressed because of a profound loss they’ve experienced and/or because they’re genetically prone to depression. This type of statement only makes them feel bad about themselves and more depressed.
3) “It’s not so bad.” To the depressed person who feels helpless, hopeless and unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it really is that bad. When you minimize their experience you only make them feel worse.
4) “It’s going to be okay.” You have no idea how it’s going to be. Telling a depressed person something like this will only make them lose their trust in you, because they’re not sure if it’s going to be okay at all. They don’t need your cheer-leading; they need your empathy right now.
Following these do’s and don’t for how to talk to someone who’s depressed will make you feel more confident in being able to help the person who’s suffering and it will help you avoid making them feel worse.