Depression is scary. It’s frightening when you feel yourself slipping into the blackness. It’s equally terrifying as you watch a loved one succumb to it.
When someone you love sinks into the dark moments, it’s hard to know what to say. In fact, it sometimes feel like there are no words to say. Yet, just because you’re not sure what to say doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say anything.
It’s challenging to know what to say to someone with depression. Here are eight useful phrases you can use.
1. You are not alone
Mental illness is very isolating. Even in a crowd of people, depression can make you feel alone. The isolation can be overwhelming.
Letting them know they’re not alone may be as simple as a text message saying, “I’m here for you,” or “you are not alone.” Even if they can’t reciprocate in the moment, the little encouragement you offer can provide some light amidst the darkness.
2. Your internal chorus is wrong
Depression often comes with a harsh internal choir. This evil group of singers only knows one song, and all the words are about how terrible you are.
On the days you’re mentally strong, it’s easier to ignore our internal critics. On the days when depression is at its worst, it’s hard to believe anything else.
In deciding what to say to someone with depression, this one is important to keep in mind. Remind your loved one that their internal voices are wrong. Whatever negative messages are playing inside their head, are most likely the depression talking, and not reality. Help them believe they are more than they feel in the moment. They are not worthless, weak, or unlovable, and may need to be reminded of these facts many times.
3. You’re not a burden
Part of mental illness is feeling like a burden to those around you. You want to protect your friends and family from the excess baggage that is you, even though that’s not true.
As you see someone coping with depression, remind them they are not a burden. Tell them how much you care about them, and how much you like being with them.
Yes, there are probably times when their depression is a strain on you. Fight the urge to share that struggle during the depressive cycle. Instead, focus on the good days of the past and the ones you know that will come soon, and reassure your loved one that they are not a burden. Tell them you’re happy to have them in your life, and that you’re not going anywhere.
4. There no reason to be ashamed
I’m not sure where the belief originated, but somewhere long ago it became almost a universal truth that depression equaled mental weakness. That is absolutely false. You and I know that’s a lie, but amid depression, it’s hard to believe it’s not true.
Fighting with bipolar disorder every day, I continually have to remind myself that my illness is indeed an illness, and not a lack of effort on my part.
You can’t just turn off depression and watching a comedy or listening to uplifting music will change nothing.
When choosing what to say to someone with depression, remember that depression runs a cycle. Some times it can be a long cycle lasting weeks, months or even years. Regardless of the length, mental strength has nothing to do with it.
5. You don’t have to talk
When someone you love is suffering, it’s only natural to want to provide a solution. It often feels like the best way to find the answer is to discuss the problem thoroughly.
When you’re in the grips of depression, words don’t come easily. It’s a struggle to pick up a phone and say hello, and on those hard days, there’s no way to have a conversation.
As your loved one copes with the depressive episode, let them know it’s okay for them not to talk. It’s okay to take some time for themselves and fight inside against their internal anguish.
It’s okay for you to stop talking, too. Sometimes just sitting with the depressed person helps more than any words you could ever say.
6. You are strong
Depression is a lot like swimming in the middle of the ocean. You can only swim so long before you’re sure you’re going to sink below the surface forever. As the weight of depression continues to pull you down, it’s easy to believe you are powerless to fight it.
Every breath you take is evidence of the strength inside you. Giving up is easy. Choosing to continue living takes strength.
Remind the person with depression of times they beat depressive episodes in the past. Tell them the strength you see in them right now, and how that strength encourages you.
Fighting mental illness takes a great deal of strength. That’s true whether or not that’s easily discernable. Reminding them of their strength is a good starting point when you don’t know what to say to someone with depression.
7. Better days will come
Every night eventually ends, and every storm eventually rolls on past. Depressive cycles also end.
In the worst depressive days, it can feel like there will never be light again. The blackness you find yourself enveloped in seems impermeable. Any hope of another sunrise seems like an impossible dream.
Help your loved one to remember the sun always comes up. Help them keep in mind the depressive cycle will end.
There will be days when they can laugh again. They will want to leave the house again. Not every day will be as bad as they feel right now. Help them hold on to hope, and that hope will carry them through the worst days.
8. I love you
These three little words are the most powerful. You might think I should have started here, but since this is the most important part, I wanted to close with these words. They are the most important words to use when you don’t know what to say to someone with depression.
Depression leaves you feeling worthless, a burden, and unlovable. As you fight against the darkness, you need continual reminders that people love you.
We may have ugly attitudes and push you away. We may cover our head with a pillow and scream in anguish, but we still need to hear the words.
Never stop reassuring your loved one with depression how much you love them. Even when you feel like your words aren’t getting anywhere, don’t stop. I assure you, some of what you’re saying is getting through.
Those three words mean more than you can imagine. Hopefully soon the person with depression will come out of the darkness and be able to tell you just how much.
The worst of depression runs a cycle. The cycle eventually ends. Watching a loved one suffer through it is difficult, but the way you react can help them endure it. If you’re at a loss for what to say, pick one phrase above and use it as you can.
Most importantly, never give up on the person you love. Yes, their illness will make it challenging for you, but they need you to stay. Your love will help them keep going.
Until next time… Keep fighting.