How to talk to someone who has depression

Conveying your concern to a loved one with depression may be challenging for you as a caregiver. Here's how you can speak to them in a supportive manner.

White Swan Foundation

Don’t: Use any language or words that trivialize the person’s experience. People with depression often hear statements like these:

"Everyone faces challenges"
"Why are you taking it so personally?"
"All this is part of life, so cheer up!"
"You would feel better if you exercised some more, or picked up a new hobby."

Do: Acknowledge that they are facing some challenges, and that it may be hard for them.

Don’t: Urge or force the person to suppress the symptoms of depression. Avoid saying things that may make them infer they're doing something wrong:

"Why are you crying?”
“Stop crying”

“Don’t feel bad, cheer up!”

Don’t force them to get out of the mood they are in until they are ready.

Do: Let them be. Let them know that you are available for them, if they need you. You could put your arm on their shoulder or give them a hug.

Don’t: Probe or make comments once they are out of their low mood
“Oh, so look who's in a good mood now!"

Do: Resume normal conversation. If you wish to talk to them about the episode, do it gently: "Are you okay now?"
"Is there anything you would like to tell me?"
"Can I be of some help?"

Let them know that you are willing to listen to them whenever they are ready. Using non-verbal means of communication ( a pat on the back or a hug) is very important in letting the person know they have your support.

Don’t: Urge them to talk to you or keep asking questions when they are in non-communicative spells.

Do: Let them be. Let them know that you are there and you would like to understand what’s happening with them, if they would like to share it with you. You could say, “I understand that at the moment, you may not want to talk, and I respect that.”

It is natural to want to know what is troubling your loved one, and to feel helpless when you don’t know how to help them get better. Ask gently; if you sense a resistance, acknowledge that they may not be in a space to discuss it right now.

Don’t: Make critical comments such as:

"You’ll never improve."

"I see you like this every day."

"I’m tired of your behavior."

"When will you change?"

"When will you get better?"

"You’re not trying hard enough."

"If you have the will power, you could get better."

"If you keep behaving like this, I don’t want to talk to you."

Statements like these may be made with the intention of making the person aware of the changes in their behavior, but can often make the person feel limited to their experience of the illness. They could also, unintentionally, imply that the person is doing something wrong, or that they are choosing to be ill.

It is possible that your loved one may not take these comments to heart; however, if they are feeling vulnerable, the symptoms of their illness may get worse. In some cases, they may already be battling thoughts of being unloved or worthlessness, and stimuli like these could make them consider harming themselves or others.

Do: Communicate your concern clearly, without implying that the illness is their fault. You could say something like this: “When I see you sad every day I feel concerned about you. Is there anything I can do to support you?”

Some other do’s to keep in mind while communicating with a person who has depression:

  • Do treat the person the way you did before they were diagnosed with the illness. It’s not always necessary to discuss the illness unless your loved one brings it up themselves. Talk about other activities, plans, or common interests.
  • Do stay aware, without being overly intrusive, about their behavior and mood. If they are not willing to speak to you, give them a hug or a pat on the back and let them know they have your support.
  • Do check with them if you think they need support: “Would you like to talk?” or “Can I support you in any way?”

For those with depression: How to respond to well-meaning comments or advice

It may be helpful to be prepared to handle well-meaning comments or advice that don’t sit well with you. You could talk to your psychiatrist or counselor to build up your own ability to respond to others in such situations.

You could prepare answers that are polite, but clearly put the message across:
“Thank you for your concern. I’m getting help and am better now.”

If the questions seem intrusive and you feel uncomfortable answering it, you could say, “I’m not comfortable speaking about this right now.”

If you are overwhelmed by others’ comments or questions, seek the support of your psychiatrist or counselor to create an action plan.

White Swan Foundation