What to Say (and What Not to Say) to a Depressed Person

What to Say (and What Not to Say) to a Depressed Person

A leading mental health specialist outlines how to help a friend or family member who is suffering from depression.

Even if you don't realize it, you probably know someone who is suffering with or has suffered from depression. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), roughly 21 million individuals in America suffered at least one severe depressive episode in 2020, accounting for 8.4% of the population. According to the CDC, 18.5 percent of individuals in 2019 experienced depression symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

When you find that someone close to you is depressed, you may be unsure what to say or how to respond, and you may be concerned about saying the wrong thing, especially if you don't know much about the condition or how serious it is. Read on for professional information regarding the condition, as well as suggestions for what you may say to someone who is suffering from it that will be actually beneficial rather than harmful.

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What is depression, exactly?

As NAMI emphasizes, having depressive illness (often known as "depression") does not suggest that a person is just sad or having a bad day. Depression is a significant mental illness that affects people of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic levels. "It's critical to distinguish between a low mood and a severe depressive episode," says NAMI assistant medical director Christine Crawford, MD, MPH. "The more we can do that, the more people will be able to detect it and seek assistance." "The symptoms of depressive illness get in the way of functioning at work, at home, in your relationships," Dr. Crawford explains. And if the symptoms persist for two weeks, it's a major medical problem that requires immediate attention. The melancholy associated with a depressed mood usually dissipates after a day or two."

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Depressive Illness?

The following are the most prevalent symptoms of depression, according to NAMI:

  • Changes in one's appetite or weight 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Feeling angry or slowed down 
  • Fatigue 
  • Feelings of poor self-worth, remorse, or weaknesses 
  • Difficulty focusing or making choices 
  • Suicidal ideation or intent

Understanding Covid and Depression: According to Dr. Crawford, the Covid epidemic had a significant influence on the amount of depression cases and symptoms. "Depression symptoms rose for both adults and children during the epidemic," she says. "There found a 30% rise in depressive and anxiety symptoms among persons of color." Overall, there was a 31% rise in ER visits for mental health disorders among teenagers, including depression. A variety of variables led to the overall rise, but the bottom line is that people did not have access to all of the outlets they typically use to manage their mental health, such as social support and face-to-face interactions."

Preventative strategies like as exercising and moving the body — which may improve mood and guard against depression — were more out of reach since they couldn't go to the gym, participate in group fitness courses, or go bike riding with their pals, according to Dr. Crawford. "There was a loss of a feeling of normalcy, as well as maybe the loss of a career or a loved one," says the author "she explains. "And, most importantly, a loss of a sense of serenity and security. It had a big impact on my mental health."

What to Say (and What Not to Say) to a Depressed Person:

You won't be able to make someone's despair go away, but you can assist by being helpful.

With care, provide your assistance.

"Another thing you can do is ask, 'How can I best support you right now?' "Empower them to share the assistance they require with you," Dr. Crawford advises. "For example, their main concern may be that they aren't able to be the best parent they can be right now, and they might ask you to babysit the kids for an afternoon."

"Don't interpret their refusal as 'They don't need my aid,' and back away," Dr. Crawford advises. Continue to offer and ask. If they refuse the first several times, they might accept the following time they might be ready to receive aid at that point. Meanwhile, you're conveying a message that you're concerned. You're letting the person know you're there for them by giving assistance. You're delivering a message to them that they're important, that their lives are important."

You can also make specific suggestions in a non-obtrusive manner, such as "I'm on my way to the supermarket—can I pick up some groceries for you?" "How about I drop one off for you and your kids?" or "I cooked two lasagnas—how about I drop one off for you and your kids?" Alternatively, you might inquire as to what time of day is the most difficult for them and provide assistance that takes that into account. If they decline, don't push it, but keep coming back.

"Think optimistically!" and similar statements should be avoided. or "This, too, shall pass!"

"When we see a friend or family member in agony, we want to relieve their suffering," Dr. Crawford explains. "We may attempt to replace that anguish with hope and optimism, and try to instill positivity in the person." However, by doing so, you are reducing and rejecting their experience. It also makes it more difficult for them to express themselves honestly. They don't need someone to fix their issues or urge them to see the positive side of things."

"Focus on the positive!" and similar phrases. "What do you have to be depressed about?" or "What do you have to be depressed about?" are dismissive and, as Dr. Crawford pointed out, invalidate the person's experience. And these words may indicate that individuals choose to be depressed, and that they can think their way out of it if they set their minds to it. It's crucial to remember that depression is a disease, not a state of mind that can be overcome.

Refrain from proposing solutions.

Have you come across anything on the internet that you believe the individual should try? Remember: You're not their doctor, and depression is a serious illness that necessitates medical attention. Before you suggest things like "Maybe you should cut out caffeine and sugar" or "You should check out this meditation I saw on Instagram — it'll definitely make you feel better," remember: You're not their doctor, and depression is a serious illness that necessitates medical attention.

Dr. Crawford advises, "Be cautious not to slip into the mentality and trap of being a problem solver and proposing a whole bunch of remedies." "It's typically a reflection of our own uneasiness and unease with the circumstance when we do that." We may find it uncomfortable to sit with our pain, and devising a plan for the individual lets us feel like we're making progress. However, it is preferable to attempt to sit with their anguish and sorrow while expressing empathy."

Encourage them to stick to their treatment plan.

You may not agree with the person's healthcare provider's assistance; for example, some individuals have a bad opinion about antidepressants. It's critical to realize that this isn't about you at this point. "It's critical for us to normalize not only the discourse about depression and mental illness, but also the conversation about receiving assistance, including counseling and medication," says Dr. Crawford. If you disagree with the person's treatment, be supportive rather than judge mental of their decision. Don't treat them differently or try to persuade them to do anything else. This is a medical problem that frequently necessitates medical care, therefore it's critical to support their decision."

Recognize the warning symptoms of suicidality.

According to NAMI, those with severe depressive illness are more likely to commit suicide. The following are the warning signals to look for, according to the organization:

  • Suicide threat or statement, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly innocent thoughts like "I wish I wasn't here," but can quickly escalate into more overt and deadly behavior.
  • An increase in the usage of alcohol and drugs
  • Behavior that is aggressive. Suicidal people may display more levels of violence and wrath than usual. 
  • Social retreat from friends, family, and the community. 
  • Dramatic mood fluctuations, which can reflect a sense of instability.
  • Impulsive or hazardous action. 
  • Preoccupation with discussing, writing, or thinking about death.

Talking about getting their affairs in order, saying farewell to loved ones, giving away their goods, a sudden shift from sorrow to peace, and making plans to commit suicide are all signs of impending danger.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or 911 right once if you or someone you know is in danger {alertWarning}


Freelance writer with a passion for EarlyInfo Website. Keeping up with the latest news, pondering on the essence of life, and thinking about new business opportunities. Most productive when Drink Coffee.

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