I’ve seen lots of lists of what not to say to a depressed person but not so many suggestions of things to say that may be helpful. As this seems to me to be just as important I thought I would give you one here.
1. Would you like some help to tidy your house? A person in a fog of depression is unlikely to be keeping their house tidy. In fact they’re probably living in the midst of a total mess. This will only be making them feel more miserable but they won’t have the energy to do anything about it. Offering to help with clearing up is a small gesture but it can make a big difference. Our living space can have a great impact on our emotional well-being, even when we aren’t unwell. A messy, cluttered room can increase feelings of oppression but a neat, spacious room can help us to feel much more relaxed.
2. Do you fancy coming to the park and climbing a tree? Depressed people don’t do much, they can’t, they don’t have the strength. They often find there isn’t really anything that they’d want to do, even if they tried. But sometimes a suggestion that’s a bit outside the ordinary can be just what is needed to jolt someone out of the fog and allow them to step into a different mind-set, even if only for a short time.
3. I’m sorry but I’m really busy right now, I don’t have time to give you the support that you need. People with depression need friends and family to be there for them but it’s important to be realistic as to what you can offer at this point in time. People will often say that they will obviously do anything they can to help. But if a depressed person is counting on you and you’re suddenly not there this can have the knock on effect of worsening their depression, especially if they’re repeatedly being let down.
If you are unable to give someone the kind of support that they need right now explain this to them. Say that you are sorry about their illness and you would like to be able to help them but explain that you have other commitments that mean you can’t be around as much as you would want to. You could then offer to talk to another person who is known to you both and who you think might be more available.
4. My life wouldn’t be half so good without you in it. People with depression can become very preoccupied with negatives thoughts about themselves. They may start to believe that they don’t really matter to anybody, or that people would be better off with them. Try to reassure them that this isn’t the case, that you care about them and that you would like them to stick around.
5. Have you had any thoughts about hurting yourself? Many people are afraid to raise this subject, whether they be a person who is unwell and in need of help or someone trying to support them. But it is important to understand how bad of a situation you are dealing with, particularly if specialist help is needed.
You will not put ideas of self harm or suicide into a person’s head by mentioning them. But if the ideas are there already you may be able to get appropriate help for some one who was too scared to ask for it.
6. What do you need? Ultimately everyone’s experiences of depression will be different, as will the ways that they chose to deal with it. Some people will want to talk things through with other people as much they can. Others will prefer to spend lots of time alone so that they have the space process things by themselves. There is no right or wrong in this. Ask the person you are supporting what they think is the best way that you could help them.