Last week, I spoke about what not to say to someone who is depressed. This week, as promised, we need to talk about things we can say or do to someone with depression. Like I said, depression is hard. For the person suffering and also for their loved ones who may feel helpless and not know what to do. You are not meant to be a substitute therapist for someone with depression.
7 things to say or do to someone with depression
1. I’m here if you need me
When someone is depressed, they may not always want to talk. But they still need to know there is someone who cares about them and who is there if they do feel the need to talk about things.
2. Is there anything I can do
Remember the helplessness I talked about? Well, you could always ask the person who is depressed if there is something you could do. Sometimes they might say nothing because they don’t know what themselves. But you could still help out by maybe cleaning up a bit, fixing them a cup of tea, getting them a treat from the shops. Anything.
3. Validate their feelings
When we try and listen to someone, more often than not, we are thinking about what to say or in the case of someone who is depressed or anxious, about how to fix it. The fact is, you do not need to fix the problem. Rather, you are being more helpful if you listen and validate their feelings. What does that mean? It means you listen to what they are saying and reflect their feelings. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they are saying or that you have to lie. It just means you are trying to understand what they are saying. Here’s some more details about how to validate someone’s feelings.
4. Show empathy, not sympathy
While you don’t have to know exactly what someone is going through, you need to be able to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine what it feels like to feel empty, unhappy, and hopeless. And then, connect. The following video by Brené Brown clearly explains the difference between empathy and sympathy. Try it with someone you know who is depressed and you’ll be amazed at how much it can mean to the other person.
5. Check in on them
Someone with depression is going to withdraw from others. They either don’t have the energy or just prefer being on their own due to their low mood. It is important to check-in on them. You could call them and have a chat, send them a message to know you are thinking of them, or even drop in on them.
6. Include them
Just like checking in on someone with depression, try and include them in things. Whether it’s dinner at your place or a night out with a small group or even just window shopping at the mall, invite them over. It makes them feel worthwhile and helps them realise they do have connections. If possible, ask them if they want to organise things and try and give them some responsibilities. It gives them a sense of purpose and once again, makes them feel worthwhile.
7. Ask if they are suicidal or hurting themselves
If someone you love has been depressed for a long time, it doesn’t hurt to ask them if they have had thoughts of ending their life. There is no basis to claims that this will ‘put ideas into their head’. Rather, if they have been thinking about it, it helps them talk to someone. While you are not their therapist, you can empathise and validate their feelings and then, encourage them to seek help. Of course, if they do have a plan and outline it to you, take them to the emergency department for a risk assessment.
The bottomline is to remember you do not have to fix their depression. You just have to be there, care, listen and empathise. You do not have to be a trained health professional to do any of that. You just have to be human.
Until next time,