How To Talk To A Depressed Person
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Depression is a growing problem in our society. Given that 9.5% of adults experience depression each year, you are bound to know someone suffering from it at one point or another in your life. This fact makes understanding depression and knowing how to communicate with a depressed person a valuable skill. Knowing what to do and how to behave before someone you know becomes depressed can help you be in the position to help them when depression arises.
First, it is important to realize that depression is the body’s natural response to stress. During times of stress, our body reacts physiologically. It does this in many ways including: sending out hormones to initiate the fight or flight response, slowing the metabolism to conserve calories when food is scarce, and feeling the need to isolate oneself when injured in order to heal. In the past, this response proved essential to humanity’s survival. Now, in a modern environment, it’s less helpful. It’s important to understand that a depressed person has much more going on than just feeling sad. Their whole body is reacting to stress outside of the individual’s control.
When approaching a depressed person, the first thing you need to do is listen. Listen carefully to what they have to say, and never pass judgement. You may disagree with what they are saying, or have a hard time hearing the things they say, but it does not help them if you are dismissive and judgemental. Remember they are very vulnerable and sensitive right now and need you to be gentle. Ask them questions, but never invalidate what they say.
When talking with them be careful not to dismiss their feelings, no matter how invalid or ridiculous you think those feelings may be. It may be difficult to hear, but you can’t change their emotions for them. The best thing you can do is acknowledge the way they feel. Accept that they are feeling it, and let them know that even if you don’t understand, you know those feelings are real, and it’s okay that they are feeling them. Ask them questions about their feelings, and be supportive. It’s okay to ask questions about whether or not they are hurting or thinking of hurting themselves. If you are worried about it, ask. Just don’t dismiss them when they respond honestly. Be supportive and ask how you can help or offer to go with them to get help.
Focus On Their Strengths
Make sure that you are supportive and celebrate their positive attributes. A depressed person often thinks very little of themselves and can’t see their successes. Point those successes out to them. Make sure they know you are there to help them in any way you can, and that you believe in them. Ask them what you can do to help, and then do it. This might be anything from grocery shopping to doing laundry. Offer them rides to appointments or to take them to run errands.
Following these guidelines will go a long way towards helping your friend or loved one through depression. Here are some examples of what you might say to get the conversation started or to offer support:
“Is there anything I can do to help ease your stress?”
“What can I do to help?”
“I understand that you feel this way, and I don’t blame you for feeling it.”
“Is there anywhere I can drive you?”
“Where are you going for support?”
“What kinds of things do you think are adding to your depression?”
“Is there a time of day that is most difficult for you?”
“I’m here for you when you need me.”
“It might not seem like it now, but you won’t always feel this way.”
Be Present & Attentive
Sometimes the best thing you can do is say nothing. Being there, and listening is often the best and only thing you can do. Make sure that your loved one knows you are there to support them and convey a sense of hope. Hope is what they need most in order to stay motivated to face another day, and to weather the storm until the depression lifts.
- Tina Fuster
I have been a professional ‘talker’ for longer than I would prefer to say, but let’s just say it’s twenty years or so. That is plenty of time for someone to learn the ins and outs of basic public speaking and interpersonal communication, and I have made my fair share of mistakes along the way. I have been responsible for speaking to crowds from the size of one and up to thousands. I am unsure of which is more intimidating one or thousands, because there are positives and negatives to both situations.
I believe that perhaps that the one-on-one sessions are more difficult because you are all but required to become personally involved with the interaction. Please don’t misunderstand. To be a good and effective public speaker you must find a way to connect with your audience. However, in an event with dozens, hundreds, or thousands it is not compulsory for the speaker and the audience to become personally involved.
In the individual counseling session, it is almost incumbent upon both parties being involved whether they really want to or not. I have encountered people who want you to simply listen. Some people want you to make clinical comments and suggestions. I have met with people who simply wanted me to fix them. The extreme cases are when people want you to tell them what to do about everything.
One extreme example I faced was when a couple came to me for counseling. They each pled their side. I made some suggestions that I hoped they would implement in an effort to grow closer together rather than further apart. They politely agreed, the woman more so than the man. A week or so after the visit, the wife reported to me that everything was getting better. Another week or more after that report, the wife called desperate to speak with me, “Sir, my husband and I got into an argument over the new paint colors in the bathroom! Can you help?”
“I can try,” was my reply.
“Good! Do you think we should go with blue or green?” She responded.
I referred her to another marriage counselor. I could not begin to make decisions for them. I couldn’t fix them and they didn’t seem to want to change. They wanted a parental figure to tell them what to do, so they could avoid conflict. Or worse, she may have preferred me to become a surrogate husband, which was not acceptable at any level with me.
I believe that similar situations can be the case when dealing with some people facing depression. They want to be acknowledged. They want to be heard. They want someone to tell them that their feelings are real and not necessarily out of the norm. Some of them want to be fixed, but they are often unwilling to do the work. If someone will tell them what to do then everything will be all right. However, the best thing I can do for anyone is to listen. Listen with my eyes, ears, mind, and especially with my mouth. How do you listen with your mouth? By keeping it shut.
It is also the best that you can do for someone as well.
1. 10 Things You Should Say to a Depressed Loved One. (n.d.). Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/10/20/10-things-you-should-say-to-a-depressed-loved-one/
2. MA, Y. (n.d.). Depression / Blog. Retrieved December 12, 2014, from http://www.pbs.org/thisemotionallife/blogs/how-talk-someone-you-love-when-they-are-depressed