How to Connect with Depressed Friends

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I have severe depression. I've been suicidal. I once made a plan to carry it out. But I also got help, fought back for well over a decade, and now I chase after other goals beyond merely surviving my illness.

But I still have intense depression and the episodes that come with that. And, until I started this website years ago, that fact used to scare my friends and loved ones. They were scared for my safety, sure. But they were also scared of me. They weren't sure how to treat me or talk to me, which made me feel more isolated.

If you have a friend or loved one dealing with depression, don't worry about how to say or act anymore. I will explain how to handle things. It's easier and more low-barrier than you think it is.

Let's get into it.

Thank You

First, thank you for your concern and care for your friend with depression. I mean that sincerely. Your loved one may not be able to articulate that gratitude during an episode but believe me, we're all thankful you're here to learn more, and we're grateful you actually care.

Your care and concern mean the world to a world that's hurting; we need more people like you who give a damn. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I mean that.

I started this site back in 2015. Since then, I've been pleasantly surprised at how many people approach me who don't have depression. Instead, they care about someone with depression and want to know more about how to love them. That's refreshing because our illness lies to us and tells us nobody cares. The fact that you're here clearly contradicts that lie, a contradiction we desperately need to see. 

I cannot thank you nearly enough for the simple fact that you care.

We're All Unique

This article is not a definitive guide. And what works for 100 depressed people may still not work for your loved one. That's okay. You have to keep an open mind when connecting with us.

Some of us are cold and unapproachable when we're going through the darkness. Some of us are needy. Some of us, like myself, will be honest with you and tell you what's up. Others don't want to talk about their pain.

My point is, don't stress over every little aspect of connecting with someone with depression; you must remain flexible, open-minded, and adaptable. The old term "go with the flow" comes to mind here.

We're Not Your Responsibility

Some people are afraid to talk to me about my depression because they're scared that learning about my illness makes them responsible for my well-being. That's not the case.

Yes, if someone says they're suicidal and made a plan, please work to ensure they get help quickly before it's too late. But just because I tell you I'm depressed doesn't mean you're supposed to care for me solely. (Here are some links to where you can get help.)

You're not suddenly on the hook.

That means, take it easy. Please don't panic and rush your friend with advice and motivational speeches. I've been encouraging people with depression for almost a decade through this website, and I can tell you that most impassioned speeches don't motivate people with depression. It just doesn't work that way.

Notice this article's title. It's not about saying something profound or magical. Instead, it's about making a valuable, much-needed connection.

So give yourself a break here; you're not our personal Tony Robbins.

We're Not Your New Project

As a depressed person, it's not your job to fix me. You're not a mental health professional. You're not a doctor who can prescribe medication.

If someone approaches you and chooses to be honest with you about their mental illness, they aren't asking you to solve the problem; they're just being honest with you. That's okay. Don't swing for the fences with your "medical diagnosis." Again, we're just trying to connect here, nothing more.

You Can't Just Cheer Us Up

It's not your job to cheer them up either. If you're not a comedian, don't suddenly act like one to bring me out of an episode. It doesn't work, and you're just going to waste valuable connecting time.

If I'm clinically depressed, there are many reasons I can't just "get over it" or shake the feelings. Do you really think your latest joke can solve my deep-rooted clinical challenges?

Reward Our Honesty

If someone tells you they have depression or are going through an episode, reward them for opening up. That took a lot of energy, trust, and humility for them to do so.

You can thank them for sharing, but it's even better to show them you care about what they just said. And you do that by listening with compassion and openness to whatever your loved one chooses to share with you.

I grew up in the church, so I've lost count of how many times someone said they would pray for me about my illness. At some point, "I'll pray for you" comes across as, "I don't know what to say or do, so I'm just gonna pass it off to Jesus."

If someone is honest with you about their illness, listen carefully, they're giving you their trust. Don't just blow it off with quick advice or empty statements.

Ask Questions (Maybe)

Again, some people don't want to go into details, and some are fine answering questions. You have to take this one carefully.

But it is okay to ask questions. But you have to come from a place of genuine curiosity about getting to know the person. Not from a place of judgment or that you're looking to find a solution.

For example, when someone tells you they have depression, ask them questions about how it makes them feel, what it's like, how long, etc. Or don't ask at all, and just be empathetic to what they have to say.

Don't be like, "Well, did you take your meds?" Again, you're not looking to solve the problem; you're just looking to connect. A genuine human connection is all that's needed here. That's what you're going for in your attempt to be a good friend or family member.

Don't Say You'll Be There Unless You Plan to Back It Up

Look, this is a long, ongoing battle. Don't volunteer for the draft unless you're ready to be part of the war for a while. I remember everyone who swore they'd be there for me and weren't.

And, if you make an offer to be there for us, clearly state what you're willing or not willing to do — no empty promises.

It's even better to ask if you can be there for them. 

"Can I text you from time to time to check on you?" 

"Can we go to lunch and talk about it? I'll just listen."

"I want to be there for you. Can we just talk?"

Your depressed friend may not have the answers as quickly as you would like them to, but you're opening your arms to them and showing a willingness to understand. And we desperately need people to try and understand this illness because we most likely don't understand it ourselves.

Talk About Normal Stuff

It's okay to talk about something else, not in a "let's quickly change the subject" sort of way. But it is okay to talk about non-depression-related things with someone who has depression.

When I launched this site, I used to have people only want to check on me or treat me like I only talked about my illness. 

That's rarely the case.

My oldest dearest friend has intense anxiety and a decent amount of depression that he seeks treatment to help alleviate. My wife has dealt with depression in herself and her family her entire life. One of my business partners has a deep-seated depression. We all talk and connect daily. Do you know what we don't usually talk about? Depression.

We joke around, and we talk about work, we talk about shows we're watching. We act normal around each other. I'm known in my friend groups, not as the guy who talks about his mental illness, but the guy that sends funny gifs and inappropriate memes to his friends. Do you know why? Because we act normal. And so should you.

Hanging out with a depressed person doesn't need to feel like going to a funeral. You don't need to wear all black and have a somber tone. Act normal, please.

Yes, when things get terribly bad, we might mention that we're dealing with a challenging time, but usually, we don't need or want to talk about our illness because our brains remind us of it enough.

Be normal. This is not about talking. It is about connecting with us. We want to feel normal, and we want to feel comfortable. You acting like we're depressed doesn't help that.

Don't Compare Scars

I have a friend that believes misery loves company. If I bring up something that's bumming me out, he has to compare it and bring up something that's bringing him down worse. It's annoying as all hell. 

Sadness is not a competition. I don't wish these feelings on anyone. When you tell me how you're bummed your friend got in a car accident the other day or that your kid pissed you off this morning, putting you in a bad mood too, it doesn't help me.

Invite Us Into Your Life

This point, and acting normal, are two of the most important things you can do when someone is honest enough about their illness to let you in. Because even the most introverted depressed people (myself included) need to have a connection of some sort. 

Human connection makes us feel human despite an illness that seeks to dehumanize us.

We're told hourly by our illness that we have no value, no worth to the world around us, that nobody cares about us. We're melancholy for reasons we don't fully understand or can articulate. We feel isolated and alone.

But when you invite us into your life, whether we accept or not, you're contradicting the lies in our heads. You're laying down evidence for us that what we feel inside is not accurate.

My wife often tells me she needs me. Even if I don't fully believe it at the time, it's effective. Because chances are I've was told by my illness today that nobody needs me and I shouldn't be here. She's laying down evidence to counter the negativity inside.

If you're having a party, invite us. We may not go but ask us anyway. We're not going to bring your party down with our depression, but inviting us may remind us that someone sees value and wants to be with us. The best way is to ask someone and then give them a reason why you want them to be there. Because we'll think it's just pity sometimes.

"Mike, no pressure, but I'd love it if you came to my birthday party. I had so much fun last time we hung out; you made me laugh so hard. You're hilarious."

"Lindsey, I'm having some friends over for football next week? I'd love it if you come by because parties are just more fun when you're around."

You have to subtly remind us that there would be a hole if we weren't there because our illness tells us that we can just fade away and nobody's life would be any worse off.

My dear friend Randy, when I was going through a horrible episode, once flat out texted me and told me, "If you were gone, I wouldn't know how to keep living because you're my best friend and my brother." Now that's an extreme example, but it was effective. The next time I considered killing myself, I thought how bad it would make things for him. I clearly didn't give a crap about myself, but nobody wants to hurt those they love. We just don't believe hurting ourselves would hurt anyone else. Sometimes we need to be reminded.

I get it. Depression is scary, especially to someone who doesn't have it and cannot relate. But the, isolation is what we need to avoid. Depression seeks to separate us from reality, loved ones, self-worth, and any number of positive things. Depression paints a picture in our brains that we're worthless and nobody cares about us, so we should just up and die.

Inviting us into your life isn't just about going to parties. Inviting us into your life is about sharing yourself and making a meaningful connection to remind us that we still matter.

You can invite us into your life by just sharing about your life. Tell us about work, tell us about your family, again, talk like you normally would with someone you want to connect with, because that's all this is, a human connection. And human connections are more than just words. Human connections are action, openness, and sharing of oneself with the other. So do that stuff!

Like I said, your job is not to fix us. You just need to connect with us. That may be the trigger we need to get us back on the road to recovery. Or, at the bare minimum, it reminds us that someone still cares.

How to Connect with Depressed Friends

Comedian and storyteller Bill Bernat did an excellent TEDx Talk about this very subject that I feel is worth sharing. He covers a lot of this and more in a way that I can't. So feel free to give it a watch.

Thank you for reading and being a good friend to someone with depression. There's more value to that than I can express.

Adam Weitz
Adam Weitz

Adam Weitz is a multi-discipline designer, business owner, and founder of Sad Runner. He is passionate about encouraging people with depression and works through Sad Runner to positively impact their lives.