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What to say to someone who’s struggling with depression

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It can be hard to know what to say to someone who’s struggling with depression. As someone who lives with depression and is a mental health advocate, I’ve been on both sides of that conversation.

Our community at The One Project recently helped shine some light on how to best support someone with depression.

The common theme that ran through each of these unique stories was fairly simple: If you want to help, the best thing you can do is to offer your presence and an ear to listen.

When it comes to a response, or perhaps wanting to let that person know you’re there (whether online or in-person), finding the right things to say — and how to say them — can be a challenge.

"I don't know what to say!"

"What if I'm just saying the same thing as others?"

"I don't want to say the wrong thing..."

While we may never find the perfect thing to say, one of the most important insights I’ve gained over a decade of living with depression and listening to our community is that a simple effort makes a huge difference for others.

What to say: A few simple tips

Here’s some quick comments you can use if you're struggling to find the words. You may want to start with whichever comment feels most genuine for you and/or appropriate to the situation. Then, elaborate as you feel more comfortable.

  1. I can relate.
  2. You're not alone.
  3. How have you been lately?
  4. I’m here for you.
  5. Thank you for sharing!
  6. This took a lot of courage to share, and I’m glad you did.
  7. A lot of what you shared resonates with me. Thank you.
  8. I’m here if you need to talk.
  9. Is there anything I can do to help?
  10. I love you / I care about you.

These comments are meant to be a starting point to help you spark your own internal wisdom. Although, these simple statements are often all you need. Little is needed to break the silence and provide someone with reassurance of your support.

A few things to keep in mind

If you’ve struggled with your own mental health issues, sharing your experiences and stories may help others feel like they aren’t alone. But make sure not to redirect the focus of the conversation to your experiences if the other person is really struggling.

And while it may seem like a good time to offer tips or advice, try to avoid speaking in “should” statements.

More often than not, the person you’re talking to knows all the things they “should” do – and may even be doing those things! Even helpful advice can feel like pressure or judgement when you’re struggling.

Whether you’re giving or receiving words of support around mental health, please keep in mind that we’re all doing our best and working to improve, so assume positive intentions.

Online chats can be especially tricky. It’s easy to read something differently without tone or nonverbal cues like body language or a person's face.

If someone is making an effort to be supportive but doesn’t quite say the right thing or stumbles a bit, try to understand where they’re coming from.

Depending on your relationship, you may even be able to let them know that their effort didn’t quite match their intent. And (if you’re able) try to let them know what you need from them in that moment.

The takeaway

Whether it’s through our words, our presence, or our actions, offering support to someone dealing with depression or other mental health issues doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

Don’t let your own worries, anxieties, or learning challenges block you from giving someone the vital support that they may need to keep going.

Sit with them. Say something. Let them know you care. The rest will flow from there.

For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.

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