What to say (and not to say) to a loved one battling depression:
It's really hard to navigate the best way to love people you know while they're battling depression. I'm always tempted to respond in ways that I think should help, rather than being intentional in thinking, "What do they really need right now?"
It's also really hard to tell your own loved ones how to love YOU well during depression. This is something I wish I could have communicated well during those hard and dark times. People around me wanted to support me, but it was SO hard to know how.
I felt like I could never accurately express to them what I needed - yet I still expected them to meet those needs. It was such a hard road to navigate. And now, even after facing the deepest depths of depression, I still battle knowing how to encourage others.
So I decided to ask.
I reached out to ladies that are battling these issues and asked for their input. I asked what things that have been said to them are helpful and what things that have been said to them are hurtful.
I'm hoping that this will be able to help us all learn a little more about loving well in hard and confusing times.
Here's what they said:
"You can talk all you want about what's bothering you, I'll listen."
"I hear you. I'm sorry you're going through that. I love you."
"You're going to make it. There's hope. I promise."
"Just keep fighting. You will make it through."
"I'm so sorry you're struggling. Can I help by making a meal for you or bringing you some groceries or watching your kids for a few hours?
I understand because I've been depressed before.
I don't understand because I've never been depressed before, but I believe you when you say you're struggling."
"-I'm here to listen
-You are so strong
-I'm proud of you
-Don't be hard on yourself, you're doing the best you can
I think that validating the persons feelings and encouraging them is so helpful."
"I know you feel like a failure because you weren't able to finish your to do list today, but look at what you actually did do. You rested your body and mind, you kept the kids safe and fed them, and you reached out to me for help. Those are not signs of being a failure. Those are signs that you are listening to your body and brain and that when you can't do it all, you're prioritizing well."
"Depending on the person's sense of humor and level of closeness, it can be helpful to name the depression and personify it. 'That Agnes is getting you down again today? Damn it, Agnes!'"
"My fiancee has asked a few times what it feels like and that always means a lot to me. Sometimes I don't want to talk about it but the fact that he wants to understand and doesn't question my version of what life feels like means a lot."
"How can I help?"
"I also like my husband's favorite 'you gotta get out of the house more, let's go to church'.... being in crowds sets off panic attacks."
"My boyfriend is the absolute king of helpful comments, some that I didn't even know I needed to hear. Some of my favorites:
'I may not understand, but I trust you and believe you. You don't have to explain or apologize.'
'Just because I don't have experience with those feelings does not mean you need to justify yourself.'
'Never feel bad about asking me for space.'
The other thing he does that REALLY helps is that he understands that even when he offers to help, I have anxiety and guilt over asking for what I need, so he'll offer specific things so that I don't have to think of it or vocalize it, just nod or shake my head. So instead of saying 'What do you need from me,' he'll say 'Would it help you if I went to the store instead so that you don't have to go out?' or 'Can I make you food or put something on Netflix for you?'"
"I know you can't see it right now, but you won't feel this way forever. I am here to help you get through it until then."
"'You are not alone.' 'Seasons change and so does life. When you are in the darkest parts of winter, know that spring will come. And no one ever knows when spring will arrive, but it will one day. Hold out for spring.' 'I don't completely understand what you are struggling with, but know that you are loved by me.' 'Take a moment and let yourself breathe. Remember what it feels like to breathe and be alive. Then start focusing on one thing at a time.'
People have also shown me music with lyrics/poetry that has helped me through some of the darkest times of my life. I'm a very musical person and I connect to it more than I do with actual conversations and text."
"For me, words never really do me any good. I need demonstrative encouragement. I need someone to be present with me and not let me push them away. Someone to just show up or just take the time to text and check in with me daily and let me know they're still praying!"
"Admitting that they don't understand but asking you questions to try to gain that understanding."
"Someone opening up about their own genuine struggle with depression/suicide. 'You're not alone.'"
"When someone tells me there has to be a reason I'm upset/depressed etc. When I don't have a reason, it's just what happens. It makes me even more upset. Then I tend to bottle it up."
"Your feelings don't matter...that was pretty hard to swallow when I was at one of my lowest times in my life."
"You just need to pray more/sin less.
You're able to go to work, but you can't make dinner?
You're just making excuses for your laziness.
Just take a walk/count your blessings/eat organic/help someone who has it worse than you and that'll fix it."
"'It's all in your head.'
'If you are truly saved you won't be depressed. Pray more.'"
"- I'm depressed and I can get out of bed
- people have it worse than you
- get over it"
"You're just being dramatic.
You're only allowed to see a Christian counselor."
"Why are you so worried? Stop being upset. You shouldn't be so tired. If you exercise more, you won't be so down. Anxiety is not of God."
"Sending a ton of religious videos on how to 'cure' depression with Jesus.
Also harmful: 'But WHY are you depressed/anxious? There has to be a reason.'"
"Just choose to be happy."
"Christians don't need medication."
"Things that are harmful that have been said to me are: 'I completely understand.' 'Can't you just get over it?' 'You are the only thing holding yourself back.' 'Get over it.'"
"'I was always too busy to be depressed.' Said my grandmother to me (she raised 5 kids and I currently have 3 under 5)."
"'I think everyone struggles with those things' when I tell my mother I struggle to do the smallest of task s like take a shower, do dishes, put away laundry, feed myself, etc."
"'Stop using it as a crutch/excuse' or 'You're on medication now so you should be better.'"
"I'm so depressed, my favorite tv show got cancelled."
"You're too sensitive. Get over it. Stop worrying.
Everyone is so different. Sometimes what is helpful for me is harmful for another and vice versa. But when the true, genuine motive is love, we feel it. We soak it in. I think a big theme from these answers is to not try to fix it. We don't need to be fixed, we need to be loved right where we are.
I hope this was helpful to both Warriors and loved ones of Warriors.
Keep fighting. Love hard.