10 Helpful Things to Say to a Depressed Person

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Supporting a loved one with depression can oftentimes be a difficult, emotional process, and searching for the “right” words to offer someone in the midst of their pain is not an uncommon struggle. In my previous post, I wrote about some of the well-intentioned things that people often say to their depressed loved ones, not realizing that their words may be causing more harm than good.

Understandably, whenever someone we care about is struggling, we yearn to fix their heartache—and may be quick to spout out eyeroll-worthy clichés, offer advice or suggestions, or default into problem-solving mode in order to rescue our loved one from the depths of despair and make their pain disappear. But it’s not our job to “fix” them. Instead, learn how to listen to your loved one without trying to problem-solve. Care for them. Be with them. Exactly as they are.

Here is a list of helpful things to say to someone battling depression (many of which have been said to ME at one point or another by those closest to me, during my own dark moments):

“Tell me about your pain…”

Open-ended questions like this will provide space for the other person to explore their feelings and reflect on their situation. Instead of saying, “I know how you feel”, you’re allowing your loved one the opportunity to share a part of their story with you and to speak about their own individualized experience from their deepest core.

“I’ve noticed ___________.”

that you’ve called in sick to work five times this past month…that you’ve been wearing the same outfit for several days now…that when I text or call your phone, you don’t respond. Focus on specific, observable behaviors, without trying to interpret, label, or judge the other person’s actions or experiences.

“I don’t know the right words to comfort you…just know that I care.”

Sometimes, we really just don’t know what to say, and it’s absolutely okay to verbalize that. It’s not always easy or comfortable to sit with someone in their darkness, and this is an honest and genuine response to share with the other person if you’re struggling for words. The second part of this statement is what truly speaks volumes, however, and will go a long, long way in supporting the other person. The best thing you can do for someone experiencing depression is just to love them. Unconditionally.

“What do you need?”

Instead of telling someone what you think they need to do (get out of bed, go for a walk, take their meds, find a new hobby, etc.), ask them to tell you what they need. They may have the answer(s) within themselves to share with you…or they may not have a clue in that moment what they need. But either way, this question will give the person a chance to “check in” with themselves and perhaps encourage them to dig into a deeper part of their being to search for their own answer. Ask the question. And then listen.

“You are important to me.”

People suffering from depression may feel inadequate, isolated, unlovable, and unworthy. They feel weak or lazy for not being able to change their current mood state. Convey to them that you value them. They matter. Their life is important to you.

“This must be really difficult for you.”

Although this is a skill that may take some practice, when you’re able to validate the feelings and experiences of another, you’re providing a space for the receiver to feel heard, acknowledged, understood, and accepted. Validating doesn’t mean that you have to agree with or accept the other person’s perspective. Rather, you’re putting yourself in their shoes and conveying to them that you understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. The result? They feel genuinely heard.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

Many people suffering with depression feel broken, empty, not good enough, and unworthy of being loved. Give your loved one reassurance that you are not going to leave them or abandon them. Let them know that you are there for them and will remain by their side—no matter what. Remember that your support and compassion are what they need most.

“How are you doing?”

I see this one as being somewhat double-edged, depending on who is saying it and how it’s delivered. Many times, it can be expressed simply as a societal nicety, with the questioner expecting nothing more than a trite response of “good” or “fine” in return. When you have someone in your life who will ask this question genuinely, then wait and truly listen for a real and honest answer, it can promote sharing and actually facilitate the healing process.

“What can I do to help you right now?”

Offer support and direct assistance to your loved one in their struggle. But be prepared to be met with, “Nothing. Go away.” If this is the case, honor your loved one’s request for space, and do just that. They may very well come back to you at some point down the road. Some folks may ask you for help with their groceries, cleaning, or for you to accompany them to a therapist or doctor’s appointment. Just make sure you follow through with whatever it is you’re offering to help your loved one with.

Nothing.

Although this may be the most uncomfortable choice on the list, because of the desire people have to quickly fill voids of silence, it can actually be the most powerful and the most appropriate of options. To quote Emily Dickinson, “Sometimes saying nothing says the most.” Instead of trying to fill space with words, just sit with your loved one. Look them in the eye. Hold their hand. Ask them how they are feeling and then let them talk. If they are not ready to talk, just be with them in silence. Remember that your caring presence is more powerful than any spoken words could ever be.

I’d love to hear from you! In the comment box below, tell me some things that others have said to you that you’ve found to be particularly helpful (or unhelpful).

 

 

10 Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person

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Lots of people experience depression, while others just have bad days or feel sad, moody or low from time to time. Offering emotional support to a friend or loved one with depression can be an essential part of the healing process. But it’s often difficult to find the right words to say when comforting someone in their struggle. Sometimes the most well-intentioned remarks and gestures may end up causing more harm than good. And even neutral words can be misconstrued, as sufferers are in a vulnerable, sensitive place. Here are 10 unhelpful things to avoid saying to someone with depression:

“I know how you feel.”

No, you don’t. There is no way for us to really know what another is feeling. Even if you have experienced depression yourself and may have an understanding, the truth is that no two people or two situations are ever exactly the same. Everyone has a different lens from which they view and interpret the world.

“Cheer up.”

People feel uncomfortable with emotions like sadness and depression. So, in order to alleviate their own discomfort and feelings of helplessness, they make statements like this in attempt to “move” the other person into a place of happiness and positivity. This can feel invalidating to the receiver, because you’re essentially saying, “What you are feeling is wrong or bad. Change.” If your loved one could ‘cheer up’, they would have done so already.

“Things could be worse.”

Of course they could. For every single one of us, things could always be worse. You lost your job? Well, so-and-so lost her job AND her entire family in a plane crash AND was diagnosed with cancer. So, you shouldn’t feel so bad! Well, just because it could be worse, doesn’t mean that someone’s pain and hurt doesn’t feel raw and real to them in the moment. Sure, things could be worse…but they could also be better.

“You just need to get out more/meet the right person/find a new hobby…”

This is a big one. Folks with mental illness are constantly being bombarded with advice from their loved ones. While it is almost always well-intentioned, the fact is that giving people opinions on how to deal with what they’re feeling and what they “need” to do isn’t helpful. Advice is not usually what people want.

“God never gives you more than you can handle.”

If you’re a religious person, these words may be comforting to hear. For everyone else, however, it’s an all too often heard cliché that can feel insulting and dismissive. It essentially implies that the reason God has dumped the pain and heartache of depression onto your lap is because he believes you are strong and can handle it. And yet, every year nearly 40,000 people in the United States say, “No, this is WAY more than I can handle”, and then take their own lives.

“Think positive thoughts.”

This suggests that people can simply “think themselves happy”. But it can be challenging to find those happy thoughts when your brain is telling you that life is miserable and not worth living. Each time negative thoughts flood your mind, you try to replace them with positive ones, but the negative thoughts are too overpowering—and it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.

“You’ll be fine.”

Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. But people with depression won’t feel any better just because you’re assuring them that everything will all be okay in the end. Can you guarantee they will be fine? Statements like this can feel dismissive and sends a message that you aren’t interested in listening to your loved one. As cliché as it may sound, it really is okay to not be okay sometimes.

“You have so much to be thankful for/live for.”

People suffering from depression are not ungrateful. They are well aware of the good things they have in their life. And if we’ve learned anything from the shocking and untimely deaths of celebrities like Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams, it’s that fortune, fame, success, and the adoration of millions of fans is not enough to cure depression. Mental illness knows no boundaries.

“Let’s go out, grab a drink, and forget about it.”

Suggesting that someone with depression have a drink is not a good idea. Alcohol is a depressant, so it can and often does worsen the symptoms of depression. And a night out on the town will not cure someone’s depression. Depression isn’t just a bad day. It’s a hundred bad days, all at once, with no clear way out.

“Just take medication.”

Not everyone with mental illness improves by taking pills, and even when they do, the decision to take medication isn’t always an easy one. There are several things to consider, like risks, effectiveness, undesirable side effects, and cost. Some folks prefer natural remedies. While others prefer talk therapy only. People have the right to choose whether or not to take medication, and forcing someone into a prescription cure will likely result in the other person feeling resentful.

Now that you’ve read my list of what NOT to say, stay tuned for a follow up post with suggestions of helpful things to say in supporting someone with depression.

Tips for Coping with the Holiday Blues

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For many, the holidays represent a time of happiness, joy, peace on earth, and celebrating with family and loved ones. For others, what has been coined the “most wonderful time of the year” can actually bring about intense feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, and grief. If you are experiencing these feelings, realize that you are not alone.

The “holiday blues” can stem from a variety sources and experiences, including unrealistic expectations, financial stressors, loss, relationship issues like separation or divorce, and weather changes due to decreased sunlight and colder temperatures. Increased demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and entertaining house guests may also contribute to feelings of tension.

Below are some helpful tips for coping with the holiday blues. By implementing these coping strategies into your holiday routine, you can minimize feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression that often accompany the holiday season. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would!

Modify your expectations. Countless movies, television commercials, and newspaper ads fill us with images of those perfect “Hallmark Christmas moments”—families exchanging gifts of love, children smiling and laughing, the snow falling gently outside and the fireplace aglow. Hollywood and the media, along with our own childhood memories and daydreams, tend to leave our minds clouded with fantasies of perfect, romantic, storybook moments—that can distort reality and bombard us with unrealistic expectations about the holidays. Seriously. When was the last time you roasted chestnuts with a loved one? Remember that the holidays don’t have to be “perfect” or “just like they were when you were a kid”. Real life isn’t Hollywood, and nobody has a perfect holiday or a perfect family.

Set boundaries. One of the biggest stressors of the holiday season can be taking on too much. You may not be able to attend every function, event, or get-together to which you have been invited. You won’t be able to work overtime each time your boss asks you to put in extra time or your co-workers ask you to cover for them. Others’ expectations can run high during the holidays, but your mental health shouldn’t have to suffer as a result. Learning to say “no” doesn’t make you mean-spirited; it’s just a way for you to set healthy boundaries that will protect you from unnecessary stress. Friends and loved ones will understand if you can’t participate in every project or activity.

Don’t abandon healthy habits. Don’t let the holidays become a free-for-all. You still have an obligation to eat and drink responsibly; engaging in overindulgence (whether its alcohol, food, etc.) will only add to your feelings of stress, anxiety, and guilt. Enjoy a healthy snack before heading off to a holiday party so that you will be less likely to go overboard on the sweets. Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water. Take a brisk walk or squeeze in a workout on holiday mornings or prior to functions where you’re expecting food and/or drinks to be served.

Finances: be mindful of what you spend. Between shopping for gifts, food, entertaining houseguests, and traveling, the holidays can put a significant strain on your budget—and your well-being. Set a clear budget before heading out to the stores. Know who you are buying for, how much you are willing to spend, and stick to your plan as best you can. It will make for a less stressful shopping experience and help protect against shopper’s guilt and anxiety that results from overspending. Peruse “homemade holiday websites” and consider making something from the heart, bake your colleagues or loved ones some cookies, or encourage your family to draw names out of a hat instead of purchasing individual gifts. Simple, heartfelt gifts can have a big impact—at little cost to you.

Start a new tradition. This is an especially important tip for those who are mourning the loss of a loved one or experiencing a break-up. The holidays can be a reminder of the way things “used to be”, and it can be helpful to consider creating new traditions as opposed to ruminating over old ones. Arrange an ugly sweater party with a group of close friends, set aside one night each week to watch a holiday movie or television special, such as “Miracle on 34th Street” or “A Christmas Carol”, or bake cookies using a new and unique recipe, and then walk door to door delivering them to neighbors.

Help others. Research indicates that the act of giving can have a tremendous positive impact on how we feel about ourselves, and helping others is often a great way to protect against isolating behaviors and/or feelings of loneliness. And not only will helping others make you feel better, it will also uplift the spirits of the person(s) you are helping! To volunteer your time, contact your local United Way, or call local schools, shelters, churches, synagogues, or mosques and ask about volunteer opportunities in your neighborhood.

The “holiday blues” tend to be short-lived, lasting only a few days to a few weeks surrounding the holiday season. If you are experiencing feelings of hopelessness or depression for a sustained period of time (more than a couple weeks), seek professional help from your physician and/or a mental health care professional. Treatment options are available that could make a significant difference in your mood and functioning throughout the holidays and beyond.

Wishing you a safe, peaceful, and joyful holiday season,

Christine