8 Things To Say to Someone Who Is Depressed
Mental health experts share their go-to phrases when talking to someone about depression—along with the three things you should never say to someone with depression.
You definitely know someone with depression. It might even be you. Fact: One in three people in the US will struggle with depression at some point during their life, and one in eight will have a major depressive episode, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But knowing that someone has depression and knowing how to talk with them about it—even if you’ve had experience with it yourself—are two different things. Because it can be tricky to gauge the right thing to say in the moment, it’s a good idea to plan how to support loved ones in your life during their dark times.
To help, mental health experts revealed the wisest, most supportive, and most compassionate words to say to someone who is depressed.
What you should not say to someone with depression
Even when they go into it with the best of intentions, there are some common mistakes people make when talking with someone about depression, says psychiatrist and neuroscientist Dave Rabin, MD, PhD, co-founder of Apollo Neuroscience.
Offering unsolicited advice
We get it: You just want to help them feel better! But before you tell them to try meditation or suggest that gratitude journaling is the cure for their sadness, take a step back and listen, Dr. Rabin says. “It’s not that those things can’t help, but what people with depression need first is compassion and a listening ear,” he explains.
Telling them how they should feel
When someone is feeling depressed, the temptation is real to point out to them all the reasons they shouldn’t be. But “shoulding” on people is never kind or helpful. Plus, they already know those things—depression isn’t logical, it’s an illness, Dr. Rabin adds.
Sometimes depression memes or depression quotes can be helpful, but if you find yourself defaulting to cheesy social media sayings—”Every cloud has a silver lining!” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!”—it can feel minimizing to their pain, he says.
What to say to someone who is depressed
Talking is a great first step to helping a loved one cope with depression. Too many people don’t know what to say, so they end up not saying anything and that can make the person suffering feel isolated and alone which can then lead to more depression, says Sanam Hafeez, PhD, a NYC neuropsychologist. “Communication, whether it’s a text, call, video chat or in person, is the priority,” she adds.
Not sure what, exactly, to communicate? Our experts share some of their go-to phrases if you’re looking for what to say to someone who is depressed:
1. “I’m thinking about you! How are you doing?”
Simply letting someone know that you are thinking about them and that you care how they are is powerful medicine, says Dr. Hafeez. The most important part of this, however, is to listen. “More than anything, people just want to feel heard and understood. Listen mindfully and intentionally without interrupting,” she suggests.
2. “I love you and I’m here for you always.”
One of the hardest parts of depression as a mental disorder is that it often convinces the sufferer that they are unloveable—something that you can show them isn’t true, Dr. Hafeez says. You don’t need to debate it with them (“You don’t really love me!” “Yes, I do!”) because you’re arguing with their mental illness, not them. Simply state it, then reinforce it through loving actions.
3. “How did today go? How was your meeting with your boss?”
“Regular check-ins can be a lifeline to someone struggling,” Dr. Hafeez says. These work best if you ask specific questions about details in their life rather than more general wording like “Everything OK?”, she adds.
Ask about their job, health issues, family drama—whatever you know is weighing on them.
4. “I can’t take this from you but I can help you carry it. How can I support you?”
When you’re unsure what to say, simply offering support is a great option, Dr. Hafeez says. You can even offer a few suggestions that you think might be helpful, such as driving them to an appointment, going on a walk together, or bringing over a meal.
Bonus: Doing acts of kindness is guaranteed to boost your mood too—it’s a win-win.
5. “I hear how upset you are, and your feelings are totally understandable.”
Depression can make people feel like outsiders or weirdos, especially if they feel like they don’t have a good enough reason to feel depressed. But depression is a matter of brain chemistry more than circumstance (although the two can influence each other), Dr. Rabin says. “Validate their feelings and let them know they aren’t weird or wrong,” adds Dr. Hafeez.
6. “I would love to listen if you’d like to talk. Want to grab coffee and chat?”
People with depression often feel like they or their feelings are a burden on others, so they may wait for permission or an invitation to talk before opening up, Dr. Hafeez says. Telling them that you’re not just willing to listen, but that you really want to listen, is a perfect opening.
Don’t stop there though! Offer a time, place or activity so they know you’re serious and not just offering platitudes, she adds.
7. “What did the dog say when he got depressed? ‘These are ruff times.'”
Don’t know what to say? Try a dad joke about depression. A little light-hearted joking can bring a smile to your loved one’s face and start a conversation, Dr. Hafeez says. Laughter can be incredibly healing and create a bond that leads to more intimate conversation.
8. “I don’t know exactly how you feel, but I can sympathize. Tell me about your experience.”
If you have ever had depression, there’s a temptation to assume that everyone’s experience with the disease will be like yours but that’s not true, Dr. Hafeez says. “Practice empathy by asking them questions and relating it to your experiences. Don’t make the conversation all about you but sharing some of your feelings as well can help them feel less alone in their struggles,” she says.