To a person struggling with depression, the problem has a way of feeling all-consuming. It permeates the day in a negative way and may include symptoms that are both emotional and physical. The stigma of depression often leads to social isolation because the depressed person believes no one understands what it’s like to be depressed. By avoiding social interaction, people with depression don’t have to confront the stigma or explain their struggle over and over again.

So, what’s a friend or loved one to do? When you notice behavior that is isolating, it’s important to reach out. Unfortunately, there are no magic words to help a person struggling with depression feel better but it does help to acknowledge your understanding that depression is an illness–NOT a phase or some sort of attention-seeking behavior. Communicating your commitment to providing unconditional support is another wonderful way to connect with a depressed person.

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Depression is a complex disease and can require long-term treatment, but you don’t have to suffer from depression to understand it and provide support and empathy to someone battling the problem.

Words that Open the Door

If you’re not sure what to say, try some of these phrases to show your support:

I’m here for you.

Simply put, this phrase can go a long way towards building a connection between you and your loved one. Depression can feel lonely and overwhelming; knowing that someone is there to help makes it a little bit easier to reach out.

Follow up with offers to help in small ways. Suggest taking a daily walk together. Offer to get prescriptions filled or select a program to watch together on a designated weeknight.  Saying and showing you care with loving actions helps your loved one feel supported.

This is not your fault.

Letting loved ones know that they are not to blame for their depression communicates that depression is, in fact, a disease, not a choice. Depression isn’t something you can “catch” like a cold, yet many people with depression feel like they did something to cause it.

Lovingly communicating your understanding of this helps release the blame and goes a long way toward resolving the feeling of guilt that burdens them.

I’d like to go with you.

Depression can cause fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, and difficulty concentrating.1 These symptoms interfere with routine aspects of daily life such as making doctors’ appointments; picking up medications; exercising or completing other aspects of treatment. Symptoms of depression can also make depressed people feel like a burden to their loved ones.

Communicating that you want to help by driving loved ones to appointments and assisting with other treatment goals lessens the feeling of being a burden and opens the door to communication.

How can I help?

You might think that dropping off meals or picking up groceries is the best way to help, but your loved one might prefer other ways of handling these tasks.  It’s a good idea to ask your depressed loved one how you can help.

Keeping a daily routine is very helpful but can seem overwhelming for people with depression. Communicating that you are open to helping out with daily needs (laundry, pet care, light cleaning) shows that you want your loved one to feel supported and cared for during treatment. Helping with small tasks might seem insignificant but it can actually free up the time and emotional space your loved needs to attend to treatment goals.

Saying nothing at all can be a gift.

Sometimes silence really is golden and one of the best things you can do is just showing up and being present. What might feel like a small, meaningless gesture to you most likely feels like an intimate, caring gesture to your loved one in need.

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Last Updated: Feb 13, 2018