7 Helpful Ways to Communicate with Someone Who Has Depression

By Reniel

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Last Updated: August 19, 2021

Depression is a strange feeling – it can be hard to describe unless you’re experiencing it yourself.

It's sort of like when an adult tells a kid that they need to go to work. The kid understands that they need to go to work, but they don’t really know what work is.

The dedication, stress, obligation, deadlines, and angry customers...kids can’t make sense of those things. They aren't part of their world yet. 

Depression is like that, and that is why you need to be careful not to say the wrong things – because many of us simply do not understand

 

What Does Depression Feel Like? 

Most people have this vague and faulty idea of what depression is. Some think depression is only for the weak and soft, or a way of seeking attention. Maybe that person is just trying to be dramatic.

Some people even become annoyed or frustrated by depressed people, telling them to, “get their acts together”. 

The problem is, someone who suffers from depression is anything but weak, or attention-seeking. In fact, a depressed person may be a whole lot stronger than you think. They have internal battles and are doing their best to make sense of what otherwise seems to be a hopeless situation. 

Many people who have depression find it extremely hard to reach out and talk to someone about what they are going through.

A 2007 Australian study showed that those who have more social interaction (Conversations, contact, support from others) lowered the odds of them continuing with depression in the future. 

With that said, doesn't it make sense to try and be part of a support network instead of avoiding what may be an uncomfortable situation? Of course it does!

But before you jump in, make sure you understand there are very inappropriate - and unhelpful - ways of communicating with someone who suffers from depression. 

Read this next: Mental Health - Meaning, Why It's Important and How to Improve it

 

7 Things to Avoid Saying to Someone With Depression

Have you ever heard of toxic positivity

Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how dire or difficult a situation is, people should maintain a positive mindset. It's a "good vibes only" approach to life. - Verywellmind.com

The truth is, many people struggle with understanding how to help a loved one who suffers from a mental health issue. Of course it's natural to jump to being a cheerleader for them, but in most cases, pumping them up with forced positivity is not the key.

It can actually make things worse because they may feel like they have to play along. Or worse, they may just decide they won't come to you next time to avoid that reaction from you. 

1. Don’t oversimplify the situation. 

It's condescending and hurtful to tell someone who is struggling with a mental health disorder to,' lighten up.' 

  • “Cheer up.”
  • “Smile!”
  • “Go try something fun - like dancing!"

If it were that simple, they probably wouldn't be in this situation. Leaving such remarks might make them feel like a burden, or a killjoy. It could even make them feel worse than when you met them.

2. Don’t express negligence or disbelief.

You might not be able to wrap your head around what this person is describing to you. But it's actually not about you. Not being able to see something doesn't mean it's not there. 

  • "But you don't look depressed!"
  • "Really? But I saw you smiling earlier today?”
  • “You must be kidding, I don’t believe you!”

Newsflash, depression doesn’t always show on the outside.

In fact, some seemingly very happy people are depressed, but are wearing a mask in order to fit in. If someone tells you they feel depressed, it is only because they feel they can take off that mask in front of you.

Making them feel like you don't believe them could make them draw inwards again, and not feel like it's okay to share how they feel with un-judgmental people they trust. 

3. Don’t dismiss their feelings. 

  • "It can't be that bad."
  • "It could be worse."
  • "Everyone feels sad every once in a while, but they get over it soon!”

These comments are the exact opposite of what a depressed person would want to hear. Statements  like these further separate you from them, leaving them in a dark world of despair.

4. Don’t blame them for the situation.

  • “You’re taking things too seriously”
  • "It's all in your head."
  • “Why can’t you just be happy?"

Saying things like this makes the person wonder if there is something inherently wrong with them. It makes them feel more helpless and powerless.

5. Don’t attack them or hurt their feelings.

  • "Other people have problems, too."
  • "You're crazy."
  • “You don’t even care about those who are trying to help you!”

Of course it can be a bit frustrating trying to help a depressed person, but outbursts like this can be a hard push in the wrong direction. If you're having a hard time understanding someone with depression, it's a good idea to get support for your feelings from another trusted person in your life. 

6. Clichés won’t help them.

  • "This too shall pass."
  • “It’s all part of God’s plan."

Cliches can definitely be meaningful, but they can also come across as though you just feel the need to say something to get out of the conversation. 

7. Don't dismiss or ignore them. 

Depression is a medical condition - people need help, often through medication and professional therapy. Assuming they are playing it up or being silly is incredibly hurtful. 

  • "Don’t think about it.” 
  • “Count your blessings.”
  • “Get over it.”
  • "Seriously?"

Minimizing how they feel or what they have shared with you is one of the worst ways to respond. Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. How would you feel if you opened your privacy to someone and they brushed you off? 

 

How You Can Help Someone With Depression

What might seem logical and helpful to you may be totally useless for a depressed person. It's also crucial that if you are worried about someone close to you struggling with depression, they need your help. 

So what can you do that will be a positive and helpful way to support them? 

  • Be there for them.
  • Remind them they are important to you.
  • Create a safe space for them to share their feelings with you.
  • Acknowledge that you can only “imagine” what they feel like, but you are willing to help them.
  • Sympathize with them – tell them their pain is reasonable.
  • Be aware, but not imposing – so they don’t harm themselves.
  • Help them find professional help - and support them when they go. 
  • Seeing to it that they stick with their medications, sessions, or whatever approach the professional recommended.

Always remember to be mindful of your words and actions because you never know what someone is going through and has been through.   

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Solutions on Unsplash

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