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3 Simple and Supportive Things to Say to Someone Struggling With Depression

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People are often unsure of how to support a loved one dealing with depression. It can be like navigating a minefield: one false step and kaboom! Now you’ve made everything worse. But it’s really not as hard as it all seems. A lot has been written about this topic, but I wanted to approach this subject more simply, because it’s often the simple things that can make a difference to someone with depression.

But first, let’s look at some things you should not say to someone with depression.

1. “Think about all the people who have it worse than you.”

At first glance, this may seem like an appropriate way to give a person with depression some perspective. Most likely, they aren’t dealing with a life or death situation, and many, many people in the world are. They should count their blessings, right? But here’s the thing: Saying something like this to a depressed person will only make them feel worse. What it tells them is that they have no right to feel depressed because so many people are struggling more than them. This can trigger massive guilt and feelings of worthlessness.

2. “Try exercise. It’s a natural antidepressant.”

Believe it or not, this will not be the first time a depressed person has heard this advice. They’ve likely heard this from their doctor, therapist and psychiatrist. And it’s not as though there isn’t any truth to this statement; exercise can be great for people with depression. However, the effort it can take someone who is depressed to even get out of bed in the morning can make the idea of exercise seem like an impossible feat. They will have failed before they even tried, again triggering feelings of guilt and worthlessness.  

3. “You just need to change your attitude. Be more positive.”

This is like telling someone with a physical illness to “just be healthy.” It doesn’t work like that. Although there is some disagreement about the specific causes of depression, most experts believe it is caused by biological and environmental factors. You can’t just snap your fingers and make it go away. Suggesting to someone with depression that it’s simply “mind over matter” is unhelpful and unsupportive and proves you just don’t get it.

So what are some things you can say to truly support someone struggling with depression? The most important thing to keep in mind is that depression is a very isolating illness. People with depression often feel very alone and withdrawn from their friends and family. What they need to hear most is simply that you care and are there for them if they need you. They also need to be reminded of their own worth as individuals. Here are some examples of things you should say to someone with depression.

1. “Take your time. I’m here for you.”

Remind them there is no schedule for coming out of a depression. If they don’t feel up to socializing or attending family gatherings, let them know it’s OK for them to take time for themselves. They don’t have to hurry to be “normal” again to please others. But always remind them you’ll be there for them when they’re ready.

2. “Celebrate the small things.”

If all someone did was get out of bed, celebrate that with them. Or if all they did was breathe and stay alive for another day, celebrate that. Small things can seem huge to someone with depression. So celebrate those little victories with them. 

3. “You are worth it.”

Depression lies. It tells people they’re not worthy, they’re failures, burdens, stupid, awful, unlovable monsters. People with depression often have to be reminded the picture they have of themselves is often distorted by their own illness. Take the time to remind them they are worthy of love, admiration and respect.

These are simple things people with depression often need to hear from their loved ones. Small acts of kindness, simple words of encouragement and reminders that they’re loved can mean the world to them. The most important thing, though, is to take the time to listen; sometimes, they will let you know exactly what they need.

Getty Images photo via Anna_Isaeva

Originally published: March 12, 2018
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