Mental health issues can be tough to discuss, especially when a loved one or friend is impacted. You may not know it, but someone you love probably suffers from depression. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depression is the most common mental disorder among adults in the U.S. Even if you’re not sure if someone is truly depressed, it’s always good to use caution when approaching the subject. Use these tips in the future to help you navigate a conversation with a loved one you’re concerned about.
Don't say: "We all get depressed sometimes, so don't worry about it. I've felt that way too before."
Feeling down or blue isn’t the same as living with a mental illness. You may be trying to relate to your loved one, but comparing your issues to their health condition may come across as insensitive.
Instead say: "It sounds like you're struggling. What can I do to be of help?"
When people share their feelings and invite us into their emotional state, it is often natural to share with them that we have felt that way too, particularly if they are sharing something about feeling down or distressed. Carilion Clinic Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine team cautions, however, that when people open up about more severe feelings of depression, responding with compassion and asking them to tell us more, rather than beginning to share our own struggles, is more prudent.
Don’t say: “No one ever said life was fair. Other people have it much worse than you.”
Instead say: “You’re important to me and so is your health.”
It is natural to compare ourselves with others, but when it comes to emotions and feelings such as depression, each person is unique and different in their experience and should be treated as such.
Don’t say: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s all in your head.”
While depression is technically caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, that doesn't mean it's easy for someone to control it or "flip a switch" and turn off those depressed feelings. Pointing out that depression can often be treated with medications and psychotherapy can help people see depression for the biological illness it is, much like hypertension or diabetes.
Instead say: “How can I better support you? Let me know whatever you are comfortable with. I’m here for you.”
Don’t just say it. Mean it. Check in regularly with your loved one. Offer to help with daily tasks or take your loved one to doctor’s appointments or out for a meal.
Don’t say: “Can’t you just try to be positive more?”
Instead say: “You’ll get through this and I’ll be here to support you throughout it all.”
When people share about their depression, they’re often looking for answers and hope. Sometimes the best thing you can give them is your time and an invitation to talk openly.
We can’t always be available to everyone all the time, so it is okay to say that you are busy but would like to arrange a time to talk later, acknowledging that what the person is sharing with you is important to you. Conveying hope and compassion is very important as sometimes people with depression feel dismissed and blown off by others, especially those who don’t understand the seriousness of depression.
And sometimes… say nothing.
Being a good listener can be the best support a person living with depression can have.