Someone you know is struggling with depression. You want to help but you’re not sure how. You worry about saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing. Or maybe you’ve already done or said the wrong thing.
There may be many reasons you’re having a hard time helping your loved one. But there also are many ways you can help.
Offer “love and kindness, first and foremost,” said writer Alexa Winchell. “Be kind to those of us suffering just as you would care for someone with the flu,” said Lisa Keith, PsyD, an assistant professor of special education at Fresno Pacific University.
What does this look like?
Below, you’ll find specific insights into the helpful — and unhelpful — ways you can be supportive from people who had or have depression.
What Doesn’t Help
Saying statements like “But your life is sooo great…”
“[D]epression is not necessarily a ‘rational’ state of being. Yes, depression following major life changes, such as losing a job, divorce, an empty nest or a health crisis, ‘makes sense’ for people. But there is not always an obvious trigger,” said Ruth White, Ph.D, MPH, MSW, author of the book Preventing Bipolar Relapse.
Telling people that they shouldn’t be depressed because their life is great only minimizes their pain and makes them feel like depression is their fault.
Making other dismissive comments.
Graeme Cowan, author of Back from the Brink: True Stories and Practical Help for Overcoming Depression and Bipolar Disorder, shared these other damaging comments, which also trivialize depression and can exacerbate it:
- “It could be worse; people are starving and killing each other elsewhere.
- Just ignore it; it will go away.
- If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, consider yourself lucky.
- Haven’t you been feeling down long enough? When is this going to be over?
- You are being selfish. What about me/your family/your [fill in the blank]?
- I have problems, too.
- At least you’re not really sick, like with cancer or anything.
- If you lost weight/got a different job/stopped smoking you wouldn’t be depressed anymore.
- If you’d just do what I tell you, you would get better.
- You just need to change your attitude.”
“Condemnation and impatience are simply the worst ways to deal with a depressed person,” said Douglas Cootey, who writes the award-winning blog “A Splintered Mind.”
“You might as well stand on top of them and drive them deeper into the depression for all the help your curt words and impatience will do for them. Tough love works well in the movies, but not so well in real life.”