How to Talk to a Depressed Friend
Do you ever freeze up when you get a text that goes, “Hey, I’m depressed.”?
I remember a while back when a friend sent me a text to tell me that she was depressed. It was the first time that I’d ever gotten a message like that and I was scared.
I was scared because I had no idea what to say or what not to say. I didn’t know how to talk to a depressed friend.
So, you know what I did?
I ignored that message and pretended that I didn’t see it for a while. By the time I was finally able to gather my thoughts to reply, my friend said something to me and those words haunted me for a while.
“I wanted to kill myself today and that was why I reached out to you. But I guess it’s safe to say that you don’t care, nobody does.”
I felt my heart shatter after I read that message. It was at that point that I decided that I was going to understand everything there was to know about depression.
You need to understand that you might be the reason why your depressed friend lives or dies. You’re the middle line between that tiny spark of hope and total unbreakable numbness.
I know it’s not easy talking to someone who is suffering from depression, especially when you’re totally clueless about the whole thing. And the crazy thing about being clueless is that you can actually make it a whole lot worse.
You might end up saying the wrong words and those wrong words might worsen your friend’s depression. It might ultimately trigger his or her suicidal thoughts.
Maybe I’m being hard or extreme here, but I want you to understand just how important your words are when you’re talking to a depressed person.
So, how do you handle conversations with your depressed friend?
Before we go further, let’s answer one question first.
Table of Contents
What exactly is depression?
Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or loss of interests in things that would normally interest you.
Depression has a lot of symptoms and they may include:
- Changes in appetite – which can appear as weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Feeling sad
- Loss of interest in activities that once gave pleasure
- Having trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide
How do you know if you’re sad or depressed?
People are quick to throw the word “depressed’ around a lot these days.
The lines between sadness and depression have become blurred and most people seem to not know the difference anymore.
What is sadness?
Sadness is a normal human emotion. It is usually triggered by a difficult and hurtful situation.
We all feel sad at some point in our lives.
Basically, we feel sad when something happens. When a loved one dies, you feel sad. When your favorite football team loses with a 6-0 margin, you feel sad.
These feelings are totally normal and we all go through it.
And when that something causing our sadness changes or when we have finally adjusted to it, our sadness goes away.
But depression is totally different.
When we are depressed, we feel sad about everything.
Depression is an abnormal emotional state. It’s a mental illness that affects how we think and do things.
Unlike sadness, depression does not necessarily require a difficult or challenging situation or a change in circumstance as a trigger. It just occurs.
It saps our energy, motivation, and our ability to experience joy, pleasure, excitement, anticipation, and satisfaction. Also, depression tends to last a whole lot longer.
So, how do you handle conversations with your depressed friend?
Now that we know the difference between sadness and depression, it is time we learn how to have that conversation.
Saying the right word is important but knowing the wrong words to avoid is more important.
The truth is that you can do a whole lot of damage with the wrong words.
So, these are the worst things to say to a friend who is depressed.
1. Snap out of it
Your friend can’t just snap out of depression. If they could just snap out of it, don’t you think they would have?
You need to understand that they did not choose to be depressed. It’s an illness, a chemical imbalance.
Whenever you’re having a conversation with your depressed friend, resist the urge to tell them to snap out of their own little world because snapping out is not within their power.
Look at it this way: If your friend was suffering from diabetes, would you tell them to snap out of it?
2. Cheer up
This might actually come from a good place in your heart like, “Just cheer up mate and it’ll be alright.”
If all a depressed person needed to do was to cheer up and smile, then depression wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s not.
There are people with depression who put on a fake smile that is so perfect that they could fool the entire world with it.
Depression isn’t cured by smiling, so refrain from telling your depressed friend to cheer up. Because it doesn’t help.
3. It can’t be that bad
Yes, it can!
It might not seem to be like a big deal to you. Instead, it might seem like a trivial matter or like your friend is exaggerating the whole situation. So, you conclude that it can’t be that bad.
But events that seem trivial to you are a big deal to your depressed friend. Why?
Because they do not have the internal resources to deal with the problem. Everything already seems less exciting and less worthwhile to them. Depression already saps their energy, motivation, satisfaction and a whole lot more.
They don’t possess your mental fortitude to deal with things. So, don’t trivialize their suffering.
4. Pray for the spirit of depression to go away
Yes, people actually do say this.
I was on Twitter when I came across a tweet of a suicidal victim. The victim said he was tired of being numb to things and he just wanted to end things.
After tagging a mental health support group in the tweet and making sure that they were aware of the suicidal tendencies of the victim, I decided to scroll through the replies to the tweets. What I saw shocked me and for a while, I couldn’t keep my mouth closed.
This is real!
People in the comment section were telling this guy that it was the devil’s work and he should just pray for the spirit of depression to get out.
I almost choked on my drink that day, because it wasn’t just one person that was actually saying such thing.
Depression isn’t a spirit and it’s not caused by a demon of any sorts. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain, an illness that can be treated.
So, please, never say this to your depressed friend. Tell them to see a professional.
5. It’s all in your head
It is true that depression is caused by a deficiency in the neurotransmitters in the brain, but this doesn’t nullify the fact that depression is real.
Depression is a real illness.
Anytime, you’re about to say something like “it’s all in your head”, think of your friend as a cancer patient with the tubes and beeping machines.
Maybe that will help remind you that depression is an illness that can actually kill.
6. Who cares?
I want to believe that no one actually says this to their friends, but I’ve come to understand that circumstances or situations influence the things we say.
I also understand that a depressed friend might seem self-centered. They appear to have built a mini world around them where they are all that’s important.
This might cause you to get angry and utter words like “who cares”.
But you have to remember that your depressed friend already feels like they have no worth as a human being and you uttering a statement like that just confirms it all.
7. Stop feeling sorry for yourself
You have to understand that people with depression are not choosing to feel sorry for themselves. In fact, they have no control over how they feel.
So, telling them “to stop feeling sorry for themselves” actually does a lot of damage. Why?
Because they simply can’t stop.
8. It’s your own fault
Even though the causes of depression are not entirely understood, one major thing that we all know is that no one chooses to voluntarily have this mental illness.
It’s never anyone’s fault. It is a mental illness caused by environmental factors and chemical imbalances.
It’s not their fault that they are depressed. They didn’t choose depression and they never did.
9. Saying you understand (when you clearly don’t)
Imagine if you lost an arm and you were telling someone with two arms how totally frustrating it is without your other arm and he says, “I understand how it feels”.
Wouldn’t you feel like the person was just playing around? Like they were just taking your problems and frustrations as a joke?
The same thing goes for a person who is depressed. Don’t ever tell your depressed friend that you understand what they are going through when you don’t. It feels like you’re minimizing their experience.
Instead, tell them, “I’m not going to pretend like I know exactly what you’re going through or how you truly feel, but tell me, what can I do to help?”
That’s what I’d say anyway.
10. It could be worse
It’s actually true that things could get a whole lot worse. It could go from back to worse within a snap of a finger.
But you know what? That doesn’t really matter. You shouldn’t care about how worse things can get, all you should care about is how bad it is for your depressed friend.
They have it bad and it doesn’t matter that it can be worse, bad is bad. Don’t try to cheer them up by telling them that it can be worse.
11. You never think of anybody but yourself
Depression makes everything less interesting, less important, and less worthwhile for those suffering from it.
It saps their energy and quite a lot more. This might make them act like all they care about is themselves. Sometimes they might seem so selfish that it seems like they are all they think about.
But you have to understand that this isn’t their fault. They do not choose how they feel or act.
12. But you don’t look depressed
There are tons of depressed people who do not look depressed. They put on a perfectly fake smile that convinces a lot of people.
They carry out their daily activities without revealing any sign of their depression.
Not everyone who is depressed looks like they’re depressed. Sometimes, they cover their pain and sadness with a big smile.
Just because they don’t look depressed does not mean that their whole life is not falling apart.
13. You just need to try harder
Just because you can not see the illness does not mean that your friend is not trying hard enough.
Every day is basically a struggle. It can be demeaning when you tell someone who’s been struggling every day to try harder.
Understand that they are trying their best and they need you not to tell them to try harder.
14. You should get out more
Depression causes fatigue and lack of motivation. That is probably why your friend stays in every time.
Telling your friend to get out more doesn’t help in any way.
15. This too shall pass
This may be true. But, it doesn’t offer any real sense of hope to your depressed friend.
Instead, it leads to internal questions like, “when will it end?”.
Will it be days, months or years?
You have to understand that telling your depressed friend “this too shall pass” doesn’t actually make them better. You should avoid saying it because it really doesn’t help them.
When you’re talking to your depressed friend, try not to sound judgmental. If you can do that, then you’ll be just fine.
So, what should you say to your depressed friend?
I got another text message from a friend, it went all, “Hey, I’ve been thinking of killing myself for a while now.”
The moment I got the text message, I took a deep breath and engaged my friend in a conversation.
This time, I didn’t freeze up because I knew the right words to say and the wrong words to avoid.
Before you engage in a conversation with your depressed friend, try to keep yourself calm. Make sure that you’re not on edge as that would make the whole conversation sound kind of weird.
How to Talk to A Depressed Friend
So, what should you say?
1. Tell them you care
Letting your friend know just how much you care is important. It makes the person feel safe and it signifies that you’re someone he can confide in.
It’s a simple statement that carries a lot of weight and power.
The most important thing is to reach out and let your friend know that somebody cares about them.
2. Let them know that you’re here for them
Depression makes it feel like you’re alone and no one is there for you.
So, when you reach out to your depressed friend, let him know that you’ll be with him every step of the way. Assure them that he will not be alone.
This goes a long way in telling them that there’s always someone that they can fall back on.
It might not show at all but just know that you telling them that you’re here for them will mean the world to them.
3. Ask your friend if there’s anything you can do to help
Depression saps a person’s energy, so there are probably a ton of things that they’ll need help for.
However, they might be reluctant to accept your help at first. Don’t rush them but assure them that if there’s anything they need you for, you’ll be there to help.
Sometimes, they have zero ideas on what kind of help they need, so be prepared with a few specific questions:
- Could I come over later to help out with laundry?
- Could I come over with your favorite meal?
- Do you need help with grocery shopping?
There are a ton of things that you can offer to help with and trust me, it would mean a lot to your friend.
So, always ask if there’s anything you can do to help.
Sometimes, all they want is someone who will listen while they talk, so be prepared.
4. Have you told a professional how you’re feeling?
You need to ask them if they have told a professional how they are feeling. Remember that depression is an illness and it doesn’t just go away. Medical care is needed.
You have to understand that sometimes your depressed friend might feel ashamed and might not want to see a professional. It is your job to encourage them every step of the way.
Follow them to the appointment if you have to.
And if they’re already seeing a professional, offer to pick up their medications for them or help them get to their appointments on time.
5. Ask them if they need someone to talk to
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your depressed friend is to just listen.
They have a lot of pent up emotions and just talking about them might make things easier for them.
Always ask if they need someone to talk to and when they do decide to talk, just listen.
We all want to offer quick fixes to problems at times, but when your depressed friend opens up to you, refrain from offering solutions. All you have to do is listen.
6. Let them know that their lives make a difference to you
A lot of depressed people think that they do not matter.
They think that nobody would miss them if they were to be gone. If you can sincerely and honestly tell your depressed friends how much they matter to you, then do it.
Let them know that they have someone who would miss them. Let them know that their lives make a difference to you.
7. Tell them you understand (when you really do)
You should only tell your depressed friend that you understand when you absolutely do. Before you say you understand, ask yourself:
Do you know what it feels like to be numb to the world? To have your energy sapped continuously? To lose all ability to enjoy the things that you used to take pleasure in?
If your answer is no, then you don’t understand. Don’t tell them that you do.
Because if you do say you understand and it’s obvious that you clearly don’t, it’ll feel like you’re trivializing their suffering and comparing it to yours.
But if you do understand what it means to be clinically depressed, tell your friend that you do.
8. Let them know that they aren’t weak or defective
Depression often appears to feel like a character flaw to anyone who is depressed.
Your depressed friend might think they’re weak or probably defective. They might feel incomplete or totally damaged.
You have to remind them that they are not. Let them know that depression is an illness. And the fact that they’re probably still fighting back means they’re a lot stronger.
Reassure them that they are not weak neither are they defective.
Finally, you have to understand that sometimes,you can say all the right words and your friend will still get super mad or upset at you. Your friend may even refuse to open up to you.
Depression isn’t something that has a specific formula, so you have to be patient with your depressed friend.
If it ever gets to a situation that you think you can not handle alone, call in professionals.
Also, people suffering from depression are at a high risk of suicide. It’s not enough that you know how to talk to a depressed friend. You should also watch out for signs of suicidal tendencies and seek professional help when necessary.
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Author: Samuel Sope
Hi, I’m Samuel Sope, a freelance copywriter and mental health blogger. I spend most of my days writing jargon-free marketing contents for clients. If I’m not writing, then I’m seated with a cup of coffee watching animes or reading fantasy novels. Feel free to send me an email at [email protected]