Figuring out how to comfort someone with depression isn’t easy. Each person’s illness is unique, and the circumstances surrounding their situation are just as varied as their depression is. I’ll be honest, comforting a depressed friend or loved one is an uphill battle. I have boundless respect for anyone who has the desire to help those of us who struggle with this awful illness. The fact that you care means more than we can ever express to you. Thank you for wanting to comfort us and be there for us despite the pain we deal with daily.
Depression fills our brains with endless lies. Day to day, our existence becomes tainted by the negativity that crushes us from within. Among the many lies is the prevalent one that we are alone in our pain and that nobody cares about our struggle. That simply isn’t true. While the stigma of mental illness clearly exists and plenty of people treat us as weird, we aren’t as alone as the depression makes us believe.
Each day, millions of people search Google for help, not for themselves but their friends and family. While one group is struggling and they think nobody cares, there’s another group who desperately searches the Internet for some small piece of advice to help them.
That’s why it’s important for some of us who can speak up to do so, to educate friends and family who care but just don’t know where to start. If your friend or loved one struggles with depression, it feels overwhelming, and you don’t know how to support them. Their pain is so great, so scary, a real mystery that you may feel apprehensive to say something to them.
First, please work to overcome that. A little later, we’re going to explore when saying nothing is better, but as a general rule, please don’t hide or keep quiet around your depressed loved one. Keeping quiet, treating those with depression differently, that becomes supporting evidence for the lies their illness tells them. Think about it, if your illness tells you that you’re weird and unworthy of normal things like friendship. How horrible is it to witness your friends and family treating you differently? Depression will say, ‘See, you are weird, and people do treat you differently because of it.’
You don’t want to give your friend’s illness any more evidence against them. They’re on trial for their life each day; you want to be on the right side, speaking truth and positivity into their lives, not the opposite. So be yourself, and pursue the normal relationship you have with your friend or loved one before depression showed up. That’s the first place you can start.
How to Comfort Someone with Depression
What follows are some ways you can comfort someone with depression. Again, because every person is unique, there may be differences from case to case. But, in general, follow this guide and you’ll set yourself apart as the person your friend can trust to get them through this horrible time in their life.
I love you
Saying, ‘I love you.’ Seems too simple to be effective but don’t forget about the lies our illness tells us. Remember, you must continually work to prove the depression wrong.
Every time you tell someone with depression that you love them and that others love them too, you’re planting seeds of positivity in very rocky and unfertile soil. Many seeds will not sprout, but it’s the few that do take root that makes a big difference during particularly dark periods where we feel nobody would care if we died.
Expressing love to someone with depression is very much a numbers game. Show your love more than you usually would, remind them you love them more often than you normally would. Again, not every seed will sprout, but the ones that do, they’re game changers.
You may still feel alone, but I am here
You can sit next to your friend every day and night, and they are still going to feel alone in their pain. That’s depression.
[Tweet “You can be with them day and night, and they’ll still feel alone in their pain. #depression”]
Depression will convince you that you’re alone and, if you aren’t actually alone, it will work overtime to push everyone away to make it happen. You must remind your loved one that they are not alone. Remind them that millions struggle with depression every day. But, most important, tell your friend that you are there for them.
Two easy ways to stay in a depressed person’s life
- Text them regularly to remind them that you love them and that you are around if they need anything. (They may not take you up on it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t bring some positivity to their life.)
- Send a handwritten note or card to your friend. Nobody sends mail anymore, take the time to send them some physical evidence that they are loved and that you’re there.
My depression’s lies aren’t always believable when my phone gets packed with texts from people praying for me and telling me they love me, or when I walk past the stack of cards from those who thought enough of me to send a note.
Acknowledge the loneliness
I’ve had people dismiss my feelings of loneliness and isolation simply because they didn’t get it. How could I feel this way if it isn’t true? That just makes things worse. Acknowledge their feelings and respect that, to your friend, those feelings are as real as anything. But also remind your loved one that you are there. Again, plant some seeds of truth that will, hopefully, sprout someday.
Keep reminding, and proving, to your friend that you are there for them and, though it may not look like it, you’ll get through to them a little bit at a time.
I can’t imagine what it’s like, but I want to listen
It helps when you acknowledge that you have no clue what it’s like for us. Look, we know you don’t know what it’s like, but it means a lot more to know that YOU know that you don’t know what it’s like for us. You know? So start off there, admit that you don’t get it but follow up with the fact that it doesn’t change anything. You’re there and want to learn more about what your loved one is going through.
My closest friends and family, even my Thunder Buddies, have no idea the horror that goes on inside my brain. The pain and suffering I feel on a daily basis are unheard of to everyone around me.
It’s the ones that want to know more, the ones who ask me questions, the ones who listen intently to what I have to say; those are the people who are making the most progress in bringing me back to life.
When you want to listen, when you want to learn more about our struggles, it shows us that you’re willing to invest in us. That proves, first that you’re someone we can go to if we’re in trouble. But more than anything, it’s just more evidence that we’re not alone, that people care, and that we’re worthy.
I don’t forget the people who ask for more information about what I go through. I remember the people who listen to what I have to say about my illness. Those people show me that my depression is lying to me, I am worthy, and people do care.
You are important to me
You must continually remind your loved one of the important role(s) they play in your life and what they mean to you. Not only does depression leave us feeling unimportant, but we’re also lead to believe we are a burden on everyone around us.
For example, every night that I drive home from our Bible study, I’m told by my depression that I talked too much. I’m told that what I said was stupid, that I shouldn’t have said anything, that I should have just stayed home. My depression tells me that they must be annoyed by me and that my friends must be talking about how horrible I am. Sometimes I can’t make it to our Bible study just because I can’t take the drive home. Other times I try to go the entire study without talking because I don’t want to say anything that my depression will tell me was stupid, later. I get punished for going out and studying the Bible with my friends. My depression wants me home and alone, in pain.
To counter the lies my depression screams in my ears, my Small Group goes out of the way to remind me how great it is when I come to one of our Bible studies. They encourage me and point out how important my point of view is and how important I am to the rest of the group. Again, they’re laying out evidence to counter my depression’s argument that I’m unimportant, unworthy, and that I should just die.
Most weeks I can’t take the nice things they say about me. I cringe when I walk in the door for our Bible study because I have to brace myself for the overwhelming welcome they give Kristen and I. When they say nice things about me it feels like nails on a chalkboard. It hurts to hear such nice things said about me.
I never understood why until today. I think the nails on a chalkboard feeling is just the reaction my depression has to positivity. Like sunlight to a vampire, encouragement wreaks havoc and weakens my depression’s power. Depression shrieks when they tell me I’m valuable. It howls when people say they want me around.
[Tweet “Like sunlight to a vampire, encouragement wreaks havoc and weakens my depression’s power.”]
The greatest weapon you have against your friend’s depression is your love and encouragement. The more you remind them of all the ways you need them in your life, of the irreplaceable role they play, the more evidence they’ll have to cling to when depression tries to convince them otherwise.
[Tweet “The greatest weapon you have against your friend’s depression is your love and encouragement.”]
Now when I drive home from Small Group, and depression tells me why I should just die. I call upon the things my friends said that night about me. The evidence, the truth, that I am valuable and that I am important to somebody, and that gets me through the fallout.
We/I care about you and what is happening
We need to know, not only that you care about us, but what we’re going through matters and you care about that too. I’ve had friends, colleagues, and even doctors talk to me as if I’m weird, or screwed up or broken. The ones that acknowledge the struggle I have and who show they actually give a crap are the people that stay in my life. The rest I’ve let drift away.
It’s difficult to explain, but there is a difference between the people who care about me and the ones who also care about what’s happening to me. The friends who only care about me never acknowledge my illness, never express concern for how I’m handling it, never go out of their way to learn more about my illness and certainly don’t say anything that I address in this piece.
Don’t get me wrong; I value anyone who cares about me. But the people I go to when I need someone to survive, the ones who only care about me are far down the list of friends I call. If you’re reading this, I assume you want to be the go-to person. I assume you want to lift your loved one up and help them through this situation. For that, you’ll need to express concern not just for your friend but for how your friend is handling their condition.
Think about it, if your friend had Cancer you would show concern for both your friend and their illness. Why should this be any different?
Say nothing and listen
Knowing when to say something and when to shut up is an art form. I wish I could explain every situation you encounter as you navigate your friend’s mood swings. Each person is unique.
I can, however, try to explain two common scenarios that should help you know when to definitely keep quiet.
When we refuse to see the positives
There are times when we want to stew in our own filth. We’re depressed, life is crap, and nothing anybody can say or do will change that. Someone trying to list off all the things to be happy for, at that time, is more annoying than a cheerful morning person is to a night owl.
If you start to say something positive, and we counter your argument with a “yeah, but” and then you do it again a few more times with the same result, just give up on trying to inject positivity. We’re not in a place to see it, so you need to adjust your approach.
We still need you, but bringing up the happy things may not be what we can handle at that moment. When we can’t take anything positive, it is a perfect time just to listen. Ask questions about how we feel, why we feel that way, does it happen often, etc. Just because you can’t make us smile doesn’t mean it isn’t an opportunity for positivity and for you to learn more about what makes us tick.
You don’t want to agree with your friend’s negative perspective on life at that moment, but they aren’t listening to your positivity either, then that’s when you shut up and listen. It’s time for school.
Asking questions and listening are two powerful weapons you can use when you partner in your loved one’s fight against depression.
When we don’t have the energy to talk
Depression is exhausting. When things get bad, we don’t have the energy to do much. There are times; we can’t even talk. That’s when you need to shut up. Just be there. I’ll write it a second time so that you know how important it is. Just be there.
After over a decade fighting depression in both her and my life (that’s right, we both have it), my wife and I call our shots. Any coach will tell you, in a team sport, you must talk to each other. Tell each other what’s going on so that you can better handle the opponent.
Now, after fourteen years of fighting depression hand in hand, Kristen and I ask each other when it’s time to shut up. Kristen will see me start to spiral. Or I’ll try to bring up the positives three or four times and she will refuse to catch on. That’s when we say, ‘Do you just want me to be quiet?’
That may sound rude to an outsider, but when Kristen asks me if I just want her to be quiet, that’s my teammate asking me where I want the ball. When I say, ‘yes’ she knows I just need her to be there. I need her warmth and comfort, but I don’t need her to talk. I don’t have the energy to listen or respond so we just need to be still.
When Kristen is depressed and tells me just to be quiet, I’m not offended. That’s my fellow soldier telling me where to send the firepower to help her. She needs me, but she doesn’t need me to give her advice or tell her anything positive. She just needs me to shut up and be with her.
Again, there is a nearly infinite combination of situations that occur, and you will need to adapt. But, keep an eye out for these two in particular and you have a head start.
I want to be here for you, I won’t leave you behind
I can’t say this enough, do NOT again do NOT, tell someone with depression that you will be there for them if you won’t commit to it.
I still see the faces of every person who said they would be there for me and bailed. My depression reminds me of them almost daily. Every therapist who let me down, every doctor who didn’t believe me, every friend who said they were going to be there for me and then walked away.
I get it; life happens, and you have your’s to deal with in addition to me and my depression. But you don’t understand, when you stand up and say that you’ll be there, and you aren’t, that’s more evidence my depression uses to prove that I’m not worthy of love or care or even my next breath. My depression slams your photo down on my desk saying, ‘This person thinks you’re crap, this one too.’
If you don’t believe that you can be there for me in the hurricane, that’s fine. But then don’t offer to be there. Because when it’s time to board up the windows and brace for the storm that’s coming, I’ll be counting on you and it’s going to hurt me more when you let me down.
But, if you want to be the go-to for your loved one, if you want to be the rock they cling to so that they survive this period in their life, then you must let them know that you’re there for them, and you must remind them on a regular basis. Assume they didn’t hear you the first time and tell them again that you’re there and that you want to be involved in their fight.
Even if they don’t take you up on the offer and let you in closer, your desire to be there, and the fact that you expressed it, will help strengthen them. I rarely take my friends up on their offers to help me, I tend to fight solo or with my wife. But I take note of every time they ask. When they do it, it reminds me that I matter and that they are cheering for me during this fight.
You may never get close enough to be in the ring with me, but knowing you want to, gives me strength to get through the next round in the fight. So please, if you’re truly willing, step up and make your friend well aware of your presence and your desire to participate in their fight.
Let’s ride this out together
My wife and I have a ride or die marriage. We have to. Both of us have an illness that’s intent to kill us or worse, tear us apart. It’s been Kristen and me against the world since day one. No matter what, gold or crap, it’s her and me, Bonnie and Clyde-ing it against our mental illnesses.
I had a friend once carelessly ask me if Kristen and I were a little co-dependent. This friend clearly didn’t understand what it meant to fight an illness hand in hand together and rely on each other. Ironically, this friend now struggles daily to revive his dying marriage. Maybe a little dependence is helpful now and then.
Let me be clear; Kristen and I are not ‘kinda co-dependent.’ We are fully dependent. God brought us together to fight this hand in hand, and we lean on each other every day to ride this thing out. Our faith in God fuels our fight, but I want it known that we do a lot of heavy lifting too. I can’t survive my depression without God and Kristen, and she can’t survive her’s without God and me. Label that all you want, but we’re committed to riding this thing out together.
If your child struggles with depression, if your spouse deals with this horrible illness, it’s time to step up and be the ride or die, person, you’re called to be. Get in there, and show them they are worth something to you and that you aren’t leaving no matter how horrible it gets. Your loved one needs you and, whether they realize it or not, they can’t do this without you. So mount up, it’s time for battle.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it, you’re so strong
People who fight depression are some of the strongest people on the planet. It’s sad that they feel as though they are among the weakest.
We need you to remind us we’re tough, and we’re able to survive this pain. Kristen texts me, almost daily, something to remind me that I’m tough. Sometimes it’s just her complimenting my strength. Other times she must remind me of what I’m accomplishing.
Today, as I write this, I’m having a bad day. I woke up at 1:25 AM to a panic attack, then woke up at 3:30 in despair. I moved to the couch to try and work only to fall asleep to horrible thoughts thanks to my depression. I’ve unplugged for the day. I’m not at work. The only contact I have is with Kristen. I wouldn’t even talk to her except she requires that I check in when I’m this bad, so she knows whether or not to come home and save me from myself.
I feel as though I’ve accomplished nothing with my day yet Kristen refuses to let me think like that. She reminds me of the importance of this website and how what I write matters and how it helps people. So even though depression gave me a crappy day, my wife forces me to notice the positivity I’m creating despite it. She’s reminding me how strong I am and how I can get through this.
You need to pump your loved one up. The mirror your friend looks into is a warped one that reflects absolute lies. Be the reflection they need to see again. Show them how awesome they truly are.
Please keep going, if not for you, for me
When I’m at my darkest, I don’t want to live. I don’t see any value in my life so there’s no point in going through this pain. I hurt every day, for what? For who? Why?
If I don’t believe I have value or worth to those around me, it’s too easy for me to assume I can just disappear. The belief in my own expendability is the most self-destructive lie depression uses to brainwash me. There are days I think I can walk out the door, and nobody will miss me. I unplug from my companies, toss my career to the curb, lash out at partners, and hide from responsibility all because I don’t think I matter, and therefore I can disappear without consequence to others.
[Tweet “My belief in my own expendability is my most self-destructive lie #depression”]
Even today, on a workday, I’ve made myself unavailable to my employees and partners, and I don’t believe that negatively impacts them one bit. I feel they can keep going on without me, that I can just pick up and go away, and they’ll keep on thriving. They don’t need me or even want me around; I should just hide and wait for them to figure out how worthless I am.
If I feel like that on a semi-good day, you can only imagine what I believe on the truly horrifying days.
So, let me ask you if I feel like I’m expendable or, worse, that others would rather I am not around, how long is it before the pain of my depression motivates me to die? If I don’t think there’s a point in me being here, and being here brings me nothing but pain, I might as well leave, right?
You must work continually to prove to your loved one that they need to be here, that your life requires their existence. If you don’t, they won’t see a reason to keep going.
Remember the example I gave earlier of my Small Group? They have to work to remind me that they want me to be at the Bible study. Think how much harder they must work to prove to me that they want me in their lives.
People who desire my contribution to their lives surround me, yet depression convinces me that nobody needs me or wants me around, that I’m of no value. Not only is that not Biblical, but it’s also just not reality.
Please remind your loved one of all the ways they impact your life. If it’s the wise words they share, tell them that. If it’s their heart for others, tell them that. If it’s just how they always make you laugh, tell them that. I don’t care if you’re painting the spare room and you remind him that you can never open the paint cans without his help. Remind him of that!
Over-communicate just how valuable they are to you and your life. Doing so first reminds them that their suicide will not be consequence free. I’ll flat out admit; I’m not here because of myself. I don’t see value in my life. I think I cause more harm than good, and I think the people I love most would be better off if I weren’t here. It’s not fair, but it’s up to them to prove me wrong. Depression already has me convinced. But it’s those people, the ones who stepped up and reminded me of the ways they need me, the ways I bring value to their lives; it’s those friends who kept me alive when I was ready to bail and go home forever.
Second, asking your loved one to keep fighting for you puts some responsibility on their shoulders. You see, depression has us methodically shutting down. We flake on plans; we distance ourselves from friends; we stop doing healthy things, we just shut down. Eventually, we have no responsibility, nothing to keep us going. Nobody expects anything of us, and that’s when depression goes, ‘See, you can just die now because there’s really no point in you being here.’
Your loved one values you more than they value themselves so when you ask them to keep fighting for you, there’s weight on their shoulders pushing them to keep going because now someone else is counting on them. If I were only fighting for myself, I’d be dead. But I’ve had people ask me regularly to keep going, and it’s my responsibility to them that keeps me breathing.
Wrapping things up
Summing all these sections up I would have to say that depression fills our heads with endless lies. It’s up to those who care about us to provide evidence to contradict the lies. Be it reminding your loved one of their worth to the conversation or flat out begging them to keep fighting because you need them desperately, you must increase the ‘paper trail’ of their value. Make their worth to your life undeniable. Depression will do everything it can to convince your loved one that you’re wrong, that you’re lying, that your loved one is still worthless.
If you want to make the greatest impact on your loved one’s life, start proving to them just how wrong their depression is about them. Show them how valuable they are, how worthy of your love they are, how much you need them around. If you continually speak truth and love into their ears, you just might break through the noise of their illness someday.
I hope this guide gave you a few good places to start in comforting someone with depression. I hope you know just how important your role is in your loved one’s life. If you do it with love and patience, comforting someone with depression can be the start of their comeback, the boost their recovery needs.
Thank you for your interest in comforting someone with depression and thank you for loving them despite their mental illness. Your support, though it may not always appear that way, is vital to their recovery.
If you would like to learn more about depression
Learning more about depression is a great way to find ways to help your friend or loved one. Below are a few links that should get you up to speed.
- The Beginner’s Guide to Living with Someone with Depression
- How to Help Someone with Depression
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- National Institute of Mental Health
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