The growing interest in mental health has made diseases like depression a leading topic in public conversations. As scientists dig deeper into the health condition, we have come to learn a lot more, such as the fact more than 15% of the adult population will suffer depression at some point. As a result, it has become imperative to know what to say to someone who is depressed.
Due to the disease’s psychological nature, knowing the right words to say to a depressed friend, partner, or family member takes a certain level of intentionality and deft touch. Sadly, this is not something that comes easily to most people. With regard to this, we have compiled a list of what you should say and avoid when talking to someone who is depressed.
How Do You Lift Someone Who Is Depressed With Words?
It is a good thing when someone admits they are depressed. Unfortunately, not every depressed person feels safe enough to share that information with people close to them or around them. However, once you have identified that someone is depressed from these signs, here are a few acceptable and positive things to say to make them feel better.
1. I’m Here When You’re Ready to Talk About It
Many depressed people keep mute about their condition because they are afraid of losing those around them. Comments that make them feel safe, reassuring them they are not alone, is an excellent way to start the conversation with a depressed person.
However, do not be pushy. If they have not told you they are depressed, first mention you have noticed they are showing some of the signs. Saying this can help prevent a defensive reaction on their part.
2. Although I don’t Understand How You Feel, You are Not Alone
It is common for people to say, ‘I know how you feel.’ It is often said to show understanding and relatability. But the unique nature of depression means unless you have dealt with it before, the comment can come across as fake and patronizing. However, you can still establish the sentiment by reminding them they are not alone, and you are there for whatever they need.
3. Let’s Take a Walk Together
Many studies, like this one, have shown that exercise can be a form of antidepressant. Presenting the option to a depressed person is a positive and helpful thing. It does not have to be walking, and you can choose any exercise both of you are likely to be comfortable doing.
Whatever you choose, note that it is all about saying something that has the potential of rejuvenating their lack of energy or enthusiasm.
4. It is Okay to be Depressed
One of the positive sides of the growing attention on mental health is that more people feel comfortable admitting they suffer from depression. But there are still a lot of people, especially men, who think acknowledging their depression is a sign of weakness. Letting them know their depression is not a reflection of their character is a crucial element of interacting with someone who is depressed.
5. Would You Be Open to Talk to a Doctor About This?
Saying something like this shows you consider their depression a real sickness and shows you care. Because many people believe depression is a fad, a statement such as this can be valid for someone who has the disease. Encourage them to visit a doctor and if they are reluctant, feel free to recommend one to them.
6. Tell Me Exactly How You Feel, I am Not Going Anywhere
Speaking to a therapist is an integral part of treating depression, but it can feel too methodical. Offering them a platform to express themselves without feeling like they are getting a diagnosis can be cathartic. Saying something like this to a depressed person can also make them feel safer, knowing they are not alone.
7. Let Me Help You with Your Chores
If you want to know if someone is depressed, look out for their lack of energy or enthusiasm to do anything, particularly everyday tasks. As a good partner, friend, or family member, offering to take care of these tasks is a good thing to say. It does not have to be chores. You can help with grocery shopping or drive them to their doctor’s appointments.
Don’t just say, ‘let me know what i can do to help.’ You are likely to get nothing. Instead, narrow your offer to one or two tasks where they could use your help.
8. I Love You and You Matter to Me
The dark side of depression is the tendency to be suicidal. Depressed people often feel like nothing they do matter, or they have no value to anyone else. Thus, a statement like this that counters that belief is critical. You may not use this exact phrase, but whatever words you use must be overt about what they mean to you.
9. You Will Get Through This
Reassurance. Reassurance. Reassurance. That is the goal when it comes to interacting with a depressed person. The disease can be overwhelming and those who suffer from it can struggle from seeing the end of the tunnel. Statements that let them know you believe they will conquer are every bit as important as anything else you will say.
10. How are You Doing?
If someone got the flu or fractured their arm, you would ask how they are holding up. Same way, if you know someone who is depressed, ask how they are faring. It helps them vocalize their progress and gives you insight into how you can help them get better.
Words You Should Avoid Saying to a Depressed Person
Just as it is critical to know the right words to say, you should also know the ones to avoid. Although it might not be your intention, these words often negatively impact and cause them to retreat from you. At the end of the day, you should remember that depression is psychological. Striking a balance in communication is an important part of the process.
To do this, here are some common words and phrases you should avoid saying to a depressed person.
1. Just Think Happy Thoughts
Cognitive reframing, i.e., replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, is a strategy psychotherapists use to treat depressed patients. However, it is a carefully calibrated process that takes time and forces patients to explore the cause of their negative thought cycle.
Outside of medical application, it comes across as a dismissal of their condition, as if it is something they can shut off at will. It also suggests their illness is their fault, which is untrue. Regardless of your intentions, avoid making statements like this.
2. Get Over It
In a similar mold to the first example, this statement oversimplifies depression and blames the patient. Although our understanding of the disease continues to evolve, we know that it is a lot more than a hormonal imbalance in the brain. This is not something that can be fixed at the snap of a finger. Saying something like this to a depressed person comes across as mean at worse and ignorant at best.
3. I Know How You Feel
On the surface, it sounds sympathetic and suggests relatability, but it often reveals false comparisons. Although they can present similar symptoms, sadness is not the same as depression. Unless you have been clinically diagnosed, it is best to avoid this statement entirely. The false comparison can cause the depressed person to retreat further into their shell because they feel misunderstood.
4. Things Could Be Worse
Comparing your condition to the situations of other people also serves to minimize their pain. It is necessary to know that regardless of their social and financial status, those suffering from depression require empathy and compassion. Statements like this only enforce shame and make them feel bad for sharing with you.
5. You Don’t Look Depressed
Two people can be depressed and both can present different physical symptoms. Scientists describe the condition as a ‘silent killer’ for a reason. Expecting it to reflect physically on the patient before taking it seriously discourages them from speaking out. Instead, recognize that it likely doesn’t show because they are ashamed or afraid of losing their social circle and they need your unreserved support.
6. It’s All in Your Head
Even though it is technically accurate, when said to someone with depression, it is dismissive. In worse scenarios, depressed people might think you are accusing them of making up their condition. It is best to avoid comments and statements that blame the disease on the patient.
7. Do You Feel Better Now?
Another common statement meant to be empathetic but poses a negative meaning. It suggests their condition should have improved after a supposedly therapeutic action or a conversation. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. Recovery takes time, and their behavior better measures their progress.
Finally, recognize that every individual has unique thoughts and feelings which filter their interaction with others. Depression further heightens the negative perspective of this phenomenon. If your friend, partner, or family member gets upset by your statement, do not take it personally. Endeavor to stay calm and continue offering your love and support in ways they feel comfortable with.
What You Can Say to Make Someone Feel Better
It is important to know that there are no magic words you can say to someone who is depressed to get them out of it. It is necessary to note this to adjust your expectations about what you intend to achieve and their response.
Your words should be about managing their pain and putting them on a path that might make them feel better. Based on this understanding, the general idea is to say and suggest things that can uplift their spirit. Depending on your relationship with the depressed person, the scope of what you can say will differ from person to person. Regardless, here are a few suggestions you can use and personalize as needed:
- Whenever you need to talk to someone, i am here to be your sounding board.
- Today might be hard, but tomorrow will be easier. Next tomorrow will even be easier, and so on.
- Even when you are not feeling your best, you matter to me.
- Do not let anyone invalidate your feelings. You did not ask to feel this way.
- We have been through bad situations in the past, and we will get through this together too.
- Remember when you [mention a major accomplishment]? You can beat this.
- We don’t love you because you are perfect. We love you because you are you.
- I know you have the strength to fight this. But on the days you don’t, you can use mine.
- Remember, the dark clouds over you now can also be the sign of the impending arrival of rain.
- I was your friend [lover] before this, and i intend to be one after. You are not alone.
If Your Friend is Just Sad, Here is How You Can Cheer Him/Her Up
Words are great and when used in the right moment, can be powerful and effective. But they need actions to back them up. It is even more necessary when you have a depressed friend or partner. Committing to activities that cheer them up gives weight to your words and can hasten the process of healing their depression.
There are tons of things you can do to cheer up your sad friend. They all come down to various factors, such as distance, money, and interests. Here are a few things you can do to bring a smile to the face of a depressed friend, partner, or family member.
- Cook them a meal – the right combination of ingredients has been known to help boost mood and improve the brain’s emotional center.
- Volunteer together – getting out of themselves and doing something for others can both be rewarding and a positive distraction.
- Do Yoga together – asides getting outside their comfort zone, yoga lowers the body’s cortisol, the stress hormone. The exercise can also serve as an antidepressant.
- Deploy natural therapy – go on a hike, spend time in the park, or just a few minutes outside is one way to boost your friend’s spirit.
- Send funny videos/GIFs – the internet is a treasure trove of hilarity. An avalanche of funny tweets, photos, or GIFs is an effective way to put a smile on their face.
- Play dress up – everyone enjoys looking good. An evening or afternoon of getting dolled up in fancy dresses can turn frowns into smiles.
- Help with chores – taking things off their plate is another way to remind them they are loved and put a smile on their faces. You can clean their room or do the dishes.
- Scream or smash plates – it does not have to be these but find a harmless means for them to let out their frustrations. Indulge their pain and give them an outlet to express their anger and sadness.
- Send flowers or other sweet gestures – don’t just text or say lovely things. Express them in actions like sending flowers or getting a band to play their favorite song.
- Just be there – overall, whatever option you choose, your presence is a sure way to cheer up your friend. Knowing they are not alone can bring smiles even to the saddest face.