If someone you know is depressed, telling them to cheer up won’t help. And a few more things that you should avoid saying:
Just get outside and you feel better…
You need a pet…
When are you going back to work?
You think too much…
Just fake it ’til you make it…
You will feel better tomorrow…
People who are depressed are told many things by people who care, but usually advice is the last thing they need. So what can you say?
Tell them that you care, that you are listening and that things are really hard right now for them. You don’t have to improve their mood or change their mind.
You can also say something like “It sounds like things are overwhelming for you right now.” Asking direct questions about the person feeling sad, or if they are feeling suicidal won’t make things worse. Showing concern and being willing to listen are one of the best things you can do.
“When someone’s feeling down, it’s instinctual to try and lift their spirits, give positive advice, or remind them of all the good things they have in their life. But according to mental-health experts, that’s actually one of the worst things you can do for someone who’s suffering from depression.” Tehrene Firman
Also recognize that you have limits.
Communicating your support can include listening and it can also mean things like: sending a note or a text message, baking something for them, watching a movie together, going for a walk, giving them a hug, or communicating that they are important to you.
If they don’t seem to be improving or if it is going very slow, staying in touch can be one of the most meaningful things you can do. Sometimes we hesitate because we don’t want to say the wrong thing. So we don’t say anything.
When I experienced a difficult period of depression, it took nearly a year until I felt well again. I know that people cared for me even when they did not call. But the people who called, texted and suggested a coffee did not have to say anything profound. Just calling and just saying “I’m thinking about you” made the difference for me.
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If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or may be suicidal, I recommend seeking professional mental health support.
I invite you to read some of my related work, “My Journey Through Depression”
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