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World Mental Health Day 2016: What to Say to a Depressed Person

Speaking TogetherYou’ve probably seen those articles, “What Not to Say to a Depressed Person.” They’re all over the place. But have you ever wondered what to say instead? Here are a few ideas, from someone who has coped with depression most of my life.

  • Should you ask me how I’m doing today? By all means. I appreciate your caring and interest.
  • What if my answer is “lousy”? Just say “I’m sorry to hear that” and leave it at that. Don’t ask if there’s anything you can do to make it better; the answer is ‘no.’ And chances are I don’t feel like going out to lunch or anything of that sort, either. My appetite disappears pretty much completely when I’m really depressed, and I lose a bunch of weight. (One time I lost 30 pounds in two weeks.) Usually I don’t feel like company, either; I just want to stay in bed. However: That is the worst possible thing for me to do. Even if you just run into me in the grocery store, try to keep me talking for five minutes. It’ll be beneficial regardless of whether I think so at the time.If you do want to call and invite me somewhere, know that the offer is appreciated and depending on the day, you might be able to talk me into it. Just don’t be surprised if I’m not a lot of fun.
  • How should you ask if I want time alone without making it seem like you want to get rid of me? Probably this won’t come up, because I rarely leave the house when I’m depressed. But if we are together, I will let you know if I’ve had enough.
  • What is the difference between “depression” and “major” depression? Major depression isn’t the result of grief or another medical condition. It’s not just sadness. To merit a diagnosis of major depression, you must have at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:
    • Depressed mood most of the day, every day (feels sad, empty, hopeless)
    • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day
    • Significant weight change (more than five percent of body weight in a month)
    • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) nearly every day
    • Psychomotor agitation or retardation nearly every day, observable by others (not just feelings of restlessness or of being slowed down)
    • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day
    • Fatigue or loss of energy
    • Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day
    • Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan or a suicide attempt or specific plan for committing suicide. (This is according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-V, which clinicians use to diagnose psychiatric disorders.)
  • Is it OK to ask about my medications and treatments? Absolutely, if you think it won’t bore you! I’m no pharmacologist, so I can’t tell you much beyond “this one’s a mood stabilizer, that one’s an anti-anxiety med” and explain the difference, but I can tell you why they were recommended for me and how long I’ve been on them. Medication will be life-long for me, and I have tried a wide variety with differing success. I’ve also had a nine-month course of electroconvulsive therapy, which is a very interesting story, if you’d ever like to hear it!
  • If I’m on disability, is it OK to ask why? I wish more people would, instead of assuming I’m just mooching off the government because I’m too lazy to work. It’s not true. The rules allow me to work a little bit, and I do. But I want you to know that in order to have qualified for disability, a panel including vocational and medical experts had to determine that I was severely ill and incapable of substantial gainful activity.
  • Does a depressive episode only happen once in your life? If only. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve had. It’s possible to manage them, but it takes trial and error, and time, and a boatload of therapy to learn adequate coping skills.
  • What should I do if you tell me you’re suicidal? Call the cops. Drive me to the ER. Get me in the hands of people qualified to handle it. And don’t dismiss it as melodrama or attention-seeking on my part. I usually won’t tell others when I’m suicidal (except, perhaps, my doctors), so if I do, treat it as a big deal.
  • How can I best be supportive? For starters, don’t forget me. I become reclusive when I’m depressed, and that can lead to “out of sight, out of mind.” Send a quick “thinking of you” text or call for a couple minutes just to let me know you’re thinking of me. Second, let me know you’re with me. I acknowledge it is very difficult to be around a depressed person. But even if you don’t understand how I’m feeling, just let me know you’re standing with me until I can stand on my own again. Accept that it may take weeks, or months, and it probably will take changes in treatment plans and maybe even in therapists and psychiatrists. It won’t be easy for either of us. But if all goes well, I will come back to you whole, and better than I was before I fell into the abyss.
World Mental Health Day 2016: What to Say to a Depressed Person


Candy Czernicki

Veteran journalist Candy Czernicki is senior editor of Psych Central. She can be reached at [email protected]


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APA Reference
Czernicki, C. (2018). World Mental Health Day 2016: What to Say to a Depressed Person. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 18, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/world-mental-health-day-2016-what-to-say-to-a-depressed-person/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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