If you know someone who’s dealing with depression, your first instinct may be to reach out to help. However, you may not know exactly how to support him or her. Regardless of how you decide to extend support, you must be particularly mindful of your words. The things you say could either help or hurt someone with depression, so it’s important for you to think carefully about how your words impact them.
Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, LPC, GCDF, and expert contributor for Pro Talk on Rehabs.com, says it’s important to offer encouraging words. Avoid blaming or making your loved one feel like the depression is his or her fault. “Your loved one has confided in you for a reason and trusts you,” Lohmann told The Cheat Sheet. “Be an encourager and let your loved one know that things will get better and you’re there for love and support.” Lohmann told The Cheat Sheet. Lohmann also suggests offering a hug when words won’t suffice.
To learn more about the right and wrong ways to talk to a person with depression, we spoke with Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a Los Angeles-based psychologist whose specialty includes depression. We asked her for advice on the best ways to relate to a depressed individual as well as helpful tips on how to show support. Here’s what Thomas had to say.
The Cheat Sheet: What exactly is depression? How do you know if someone you love has it?
Yvonne Thomas: Depression is a condition that can negatively affect a person’s ability to function physically and emotionally. To know if someone you love has depression, look for any of the following recurring symptoms that happen for an extended time period. Some of the symptoms include:
- Depressed mood most of the day, more days than not
- Lack of interest or pleasure in all or most activities
- Poor appetite, overeating, or significant weight loss or gain without trying to do either one
- Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep or unsatisfying sleep
- Low energy or fatigue
- Body feeling tense or slowed-down that has been noticed by others
- Feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt, and/or low self-esteem
- Decreased ability to think, concentrate, and/or make decisions
- Suicidal thinking, planning, and/or attempts.
CS: What are some of the worst things you could say to someone with depression? Why?
YT: Some of the worst things you could say to someone with depression is anything that blames them or is judgmental or critical of them. For example, you could cause even more depression and upset for your loved one if you say things like “stop being lazy,” “you’re too negative to be around,” “you are such a downer,” or “snap out of it!”
It is not your loved one’s fault or under his or her control if he or she is going through depression. It’s not something one can just stop so easily. Instead, the best way to support a friend or family member managing depression is to be encouraging, positive, and nurturing. Let your loved one verbally express the upset he or she is going through to help de-escalate the depression so it doesn’t keep getting bigger.
CS: What is the best way to support a friend or family member managing depression?
YT: Do the buddy system with this person by exercising or at least regularly taking a walk together to help decrease the depression. Watch a funny television show or movies with each other to help lighten up your loved one’s mood and perspective.
You can also help your loved one find a psychologist to work with to give him or her more understanding about depression and the tools to help combat it and regain better functioning.
CS: What advice do you have for someone who is depressed and doesn’t know how to respond to an insensitive friend or family member?
YT: For someone who is depressed who doesn’t know how to respond to an insensitive friend or family member, tell that person you are not in control of these feelings and you don’t want to feel this way. Also, ask the person to be compassionate, nonjudgmental, and supportive and to help in some of the ways described above.
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