10 Things to Say to Someone with Depression

iMind Mental Health Solutions Resource


Depression is a shadow that often dwells silently in the lives of many, casting its pall over day-to-day joys and challenges alike. According to global statistics, millions find themselves grappling with this formidable mental health condition, making it an issue that merits our collective attention, empathy, and understanding.

While the prevalence of depression is widespread, the understanding of how to appropriately communicate and support someone going through it remains elusive to many. Too often, words spoken with the best of intentions can inadvertently wound or alienate, amplifying feelings of isolation which are inherent to depression.

Navigating conversations about depression can feel like walking a tightrope, with the weight of someone’s well-being in the balance. We can all use a guiding hand for that journey, and some insights into what to say (and what not to say) to someone experiencing depression.

Whether you’re a friend, family member, colleague, or simply an empathetic soul, these insights can be the bridge to a more meaningful and supportive dialogue.

So, let’s delve into the power of words, their potential for healing, and how we can all be more attuned listeners and allies in the battle against depression.

The Importance of Choosing Your Words

“Individuals with depression tend to be highly self-critical and frequently have an ongoing internal dialogue that is harshly judgmental of themselves. Having someone else be critical can then act like salt to the wound and trigger feelings of shame at being exposed as deficient.”

Suma Chand, PhD, Anxiety & Depression Association of America

Imagine for a moment that words are akin to brushstrokes on a canvas; each one has the power to create an impression, to inspire emotions, and to shift perspectives. In the context of mental health, especially when addressing someone with depression, our words can be either a source of solace or inadvertently become a source of pain. It’s an immense responsibility, but also a privilege, to be in a position where what we say can genuinely make a difference in someone’s life.

Depression is not a mere moment of sadness; it’s a complex, multifaceted mental health condition. Its manifestations vary from person to person, and what may seem like a fleeting emotion for one individual can be a profound abyss for another. This is where the importance of language comes into play. When conversing with someone grappling with depression, our words should ideally serve as gentle anchors — offering understanding, support, and a safe space for expression.

Even with the best of intentions, many of us falter. Phrases that sound encouraging to us may come across as dismissive or patronizing to someone in the throes of depression.

For instance, saying “Look on the bright side” might be intended as a beacon of hope, but for someone with depression, it might feel like a minimization of their experience.

It’s vital to go into these conversations with a degree of mindfulness, recognizing the profound impact our words can have. Just as a misplaced brushstroke can change the entire tone of a painting, a misplaced word can shift the dynamic of a conversation. But with understanding, care, and a bit of guidance, we can craft our words to be the supportive embrace someone needs.

10 Things to Say to Someone with Depression

“One of the symptoms/effects of depression is distorted negative thinking. That’s why they say “depression lies.” When people are depressed, they need someone who is not to check their thoughts against, to check the negative spiral.”

monmostly, Reddit user

Looking for the best things to say to someone with depression? Here are ten phrases that – based on research and anecdotal evidence – can offer solace and support to someone facing depression.

  • “I’m here for you.” Simple yet profound, this statement reassures the person that they’re not navigating their struggles alone. It emphasizes unwavering support, even when words are scarce.
  • “It’s okay to feel this way.” Validating someone’s feelings can alleviate the weight of guilt or shame they might be harboring for feeling the way they do. This phrase underlines that it’s alright to feel, to be human.
  • “You’re not alone in this.” By reminding them of the broader community of individuals who’ve experienced or are experiencing similar challenges, you provide both a sense of belonging and the hope that healing is possible.
  • “Take all the time you need.” Patience is a precious gift. Assuring someone that they don’t need to rush their healing process can reduce the pressure they might be feeling.
  • “It’s okay to ask for help.” The journey of seeking support, whether from loved ones or professionals, can be daunting. Reinforcing that it’s okay, and even commendable, to ask for help can be the encouragement someone needs.
  • “I may not fully understand, but I care about how you feel.” Honesty is refreshing. Admitting that you might not grasp the full depths of their experience, but emphasizing your genuine concern speaks volumes.
  • “You matter and you’re important.” A reminder of their intrinsic value can be a beacon of hope, especially during times when they might be feeling insignificant or burdensome.
  • “Your feelings are valid.” Every individual’s experience with depression is personal and valid. By acknowledging this, you prevent the person from feeling dismissed or misunderstood.
  • “Is there anything specific you’d like to talk about or any way I can support you?” Offering an open platform for communication demonstrates both your willingness to listen and your commitment to understanding their unique needs.
  • “It’s brave to face this, and I’m proud of you.” Recognizing the courage it takes to live with and confront depression can provide a boost of confidence and a reminder of their strength.

While these phrases are a good starting point, remember the significance of your tone, demeanor, and genuine empathy. Often, it’s not just what we say, but how we say it, that leaves a lasting impact. Each individual’s journey with depression is deeply personal, and while these phrases can guide your interactions, the heart from which they are spoken is equally critical.

8 Worst Things to Say to People with Depression

“‘Cheer up’ was the worst thing anyone said to me. Those two words triggered thousands of horrible thoughts and I was beating myself up for not hiding how I felt well enough from everyone around me.”

Amy, “Living With Depression: My Experience,” Mind UK

Knowing what to say is half the battle. The other half is understanding what phrases might inadvertently cause distress or deepen feelings of isolation. Although often spoken with the best of intentions, some remarks can be misconstrued or feel dismissive to someone grappling with depression.

Here’s a brief exploration of some well-meaning, but potentially harmful phrases, and a short explanation of why they might be best avoided.

  • “Just snap out of it.” This phrase oversimplifies depression, implying that it’s a switch one can easily turn off. It dismisses the complex nature of the condition and can make the individual feel misunderstood or belittled.
  • “We all go through tough times.” While this is technically true, the implication is that their feelings are just ordinary or something everyone goes through. It might make the person feel their struggles are being minimized.
  • “Think positive!” Positivity alone isn’t a cure for depression. While the sentiment is meant to uplift, it can come across as a suggestion that the person is simply not trying hard enough to be happy.
  • “You don’t look depressed.” Depression doesn’t have a “look.” This comment invalidates their internal experience based on external appearances.
  • “It’s okay to ask for help.” The journey of seeking support, whether from loved ones or professionals, can be daunting. Reinforcing that it’s okay, and even commendable, to ask for help can be the encouragement someone needs.
  • “Count your blessings.” This implies that gratitude can override the genuine chemical imbalances or situational factors causing their depression. It also hints that they might be ungrateful, which can induce guilt.
  • “Others have it worse than you.” Pain isn’t a competition. Such a comparison might make the individual feel guilty for their feelings or as if they don’t have a “right” to their depression.
  • “It’s all in your head.” While meant to indicate the mental nature of the ailment, this can be construed as diminishing the reality and severity of their experience.
  • “You just need to get out more.” This oversimplifies the solution and might feel dismissive. It implies that simple changes in routine or environment would ‘fix’ their complex emotional state.

Setting the Stage: How to Talk to Someone with Depression

Amidst all the advice about what to say or not say, there’s an often-understated element in our interactions that holds profound significance: the art of listening.

Truly listening — without judgment, without crafting a response in our minds, and without letting our own experiences overshadow the speaker’s — is both a gift and a skill, especially when it comes to supporting someone with depression.

  • Understanding Active Listening: Active listening involves being fully present in the conversation. It’s about more than just hearing the words. It’s about understanding and interpreting them, giving feedback, and showing empathy.
  • Creating a Safe Space: When someone feels heard, they feel seen and validated. By actively listening, you create a sanctuary where someone can express their feelings without fear of dismissal or judgment.
  • The Healing Power of Being Heard: Vocalizing feelings and thoughts can be therapeutic in itself. By offering a compassionate ear, you facilitate a process where articulating challenges can lead to clarity and, possibly, catharsis.
  • Responding vs. Reacting: While our natural inclination might be to offer solutions or advice, sometimes it’s more beneficial to simply listen and respond with understanding. Reacting quickly or emotionally might unintentionally overshadow the speaker’s feelings.
  • Non-Verbal Cues: Active listening isn’t just about the auditory component. Observing body language, offering reassuring gestures, and maintaining eye contact can further emphasize your genuine interest and concern.
  • Respecting Silence: In conversations about mental health, silences can be heavy but also healing. Rather than rushing to fill them, sometimes it’s best to let them linger, giving the person time to gather their thoughts or emotions.

Active listening is, in many ways, a form of verbal and emotional embrace. It communicates, “I’m with you, I value what you’re saying, and I’m not here to overshadow or rush you.” It’s a cornerstone of genuine human connection. And in the realm of mental health, where feelings of isolation can be pervasive, this connection becomes an invaluable lifeline.

Remember, sometimes the most potent words you can offer are the ones you don’t speak but are reflected in your attentive silence and empathetic demeanor. Supporting someone with depression is not a singular act, but a continuous journey marked by patience, empathy, and understanding.

How to Support Someone with Depression

As days transition into weeks and months, it’s vital to maintain consistency in your support. Regular check-ins, gestures of kindness, or simply being available can make all the difference. Remember, the path of healing and coping with depression isn’t linear; there will be highs and lows. Being a steady presence throughout this journey, while also ensuring you’re equipped with knowledge and resources, is paramount. And as you offer your support, don’t forget to maintain your own mental health and wellbeing, and seek guidance when necessary.

The tandem journey of supporting and self-care can fortify the bonds of trust and create a nurturing environment conducive to healing.

  • Amy. (2014, February 14). Living with depression: my experience. Mind.org.
  • Chand, S. (2018, October 16). Criticism: Depression and Anxiety. Adaa.org.
  • ‌Interdimensional-r34. (2021, August 27). Reddit.com.

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