What to say to a depressed friend

Depression is more complex than sadness. Here's a therapist's guide on how to actually help someone who’s going through it.

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Clinical depression is much more nuanced than just “feeling sad.”

When you love someone who is experiencing depression, supporting them in the appropriate way is crucial.

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Since mental illness is still deeply misunderstood and stigmatized, some people can fall on oppressive tropes when trying to be helpful.

Think positive!

Good vibes only!

Just focus on everything great in your life that you should be grateful for!

Try to avoid this kind of language:

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Use this approach instead:

Offer your presence and attention.

Resist the temptation to offer solutions.

Listen without judgment.

Don’t try to guide the conversation.

Ask what they need.

Ask them how they are and invite them to be honest so they know they don’t have to tell polite lies.

Aimee Daramus, psychologist

They might want to talk about something else so they can feel better for a while.

Aimee Daramus, psychologist

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Depressed people are often aching for someone to sit with them exactly as they are, without the pressure to be “better.”

Help a depressed friend with tasks that probably feel like no big deal to you.

Bring them food, or help them tidy up.

When I’m having a hard time, the things I need most are company and basic housekeeping.

Talking with friends on the phone while I fold my laundry has also been a huge support.

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Sometimes, texting funny memes or pictures of cute animals helps.

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If someone is truly inconsolable or has attempted self-harm in the past, you may have to bring that up.

But you don’t have to pretend that talking about it is easy for either of you.

“I feel awkward about this, but I really want to check if you’ve had any thoughts about hurting yourself.”

Psychologist Aimee Daramus suggests using this phrase to approach the subject of self-harm:

Try not to panic if someone says they have had thoughts of harming themselves.

Suicidal thoughts happen to a lot of people who never intend to act on them,” says Daramus. “Ask directly if they’re at risk right now. If they’re not, just provide emotional support. Only call an ambulance or try to get them to a hospital if there’s a threat right now.”

boundaries are still important

You can say things like, “Hey, I have about 20 minutes, wanted to check-in. How are you?”

That lets someone know you care without creating the expectation that you can drop everything to “rescue” someone.

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And remember, this is not about you.

“Solving” other peoples’ problems can be a way of making ourselves feel important or avoiding our own issues.

If you want to be a good friend, let go of that urge. Shift back to ask what your friend needs.