Talking to Someone with Depression - What to Say and What to Offer

Patient Expert

I realize that when you're trying to talk to someone with clinical depression, it can be frustrating. It's kind of a mine field if you have never experienced depression yourself. The situation's complicated by an issue on the depressed person's side. It's very hard for someone with depression to communicate how depression feels.

But there are some things you can say, (and offer) that, while not guaranteed to make the depressed person feel better, could make it easier for them to talk to you and spend time with you.

First of all, there are three things that you want to convey in general. Acknowledge that you can't understand what the person's feeling (unless you've experienced clinical depression), but tell them that you can tell it's very difficult/painful. Also, make sure that the person knows that you are not trying to jolly them up or get them "past" the situation. And finally, make it clear that you are not trivializing their situation.

Here are some more specific things you can say or offer:

  • "I'm sorry you're in so much pain."
  • "I can't even imagine what you're going through. Do you want to talk about it?"
  • "You're not alone."
  • "I'm here for you." The caveat here is to only say it if you mean it, and are willing to help the person out in any way you can. It's possible that they won't ask you for anything. It's possible that they just need an occasional shoulder to cry on. But if they need more, like frequent talks and visits, it won't help them or your relationship if you can't follow through.
  • "I'm here whenever you need to talk." Again, assuming you mean it, of course. If every time the depressed individual calls to talk and you roll your eyes and stifle a yawn, you're not helping the situation.
  • "Can I take care of any errands for you or do something around the house?" You know when you've had the flu for a week and nothing's gotten done? That's how things are for someone with clinical depression. Everything's a huge effort, so if you can just take care of a couple of things for them, it will help immensely.
  • "Do you need someone to go to the doctor with you?" First, this is a gentle way of finding out if the depressed individual is getting help. Secondly, depression can make your thought process pretty foggy. It might help them to have someone at them at the doctor's to not only communicate pertinent information to the doctor, but gather information from the doctor.

Finding the right thing to say to someone with depression may seem complicated, but if you remember not to be judgmental, to sympathize if you can't empathize and not to trivialize their situation, chances are you will be a great comfort to that person.

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