6 Things to Say to a Loved One with Depression

husband and wife hugging and talking to each other

If your loved one is struggling with depression, there’s not always a lot you can do. In fact, feeling helpless and unable to help them in a meaningful way can be one of the most challenging parts of living with someone with depression. The thing is, offering support can be more meaningful than you realize, especially if your loved one is accustomed to not getting that. Knowing what to say isn’t always easy. Often, there is no right thing to say. And sometimes, there’s no right way to say the thing you want to say.

However, if you do approach your loved one’s depression with kindness, with boundaries, and with non-judgement, you can get quite far in showing support and being there for them. These 6 things to say to your loved one are a good place to start.

1. It’s Okay

Mental illness can come with a lot of social stigma. People feel bad about not being able to do things. That’s especially true if depression gets in the way of keeping a job, completing chores, or helping out. Your loved one might be feeling like they are worth less. They might feel that their depression makes them less of a person. Whether stigma is real and people are judging them and their ability to do things or perceived and most people are okay with it, it’s important you vocalize that this is okay. You understand they are sick. You know they will try to get better. And, you know they will have ups and downs. Recovery is not a linear tract and improvement.

Talking about that, talking about self-worth, and talking about how you don’t see mental illness as a stigma is important for them – and for you. Showing that understanding can also help your loved one to come to terms with that themselves, because people often struggle with accepting that themselves.

2. I’m Here for You

A simple “I’m here for you” is often overstated. People say it and don’t mean it. But, your loved one needs to hear it and you need to follow up if you want them to believe it. Being there for someone can be as simple as helping them with meals or chores. It can also mean listening when they have to vent. It can mean standing up for them to other members of your family. There are always ways to be there for someone – but you have to know the person to decide what that should be.

3. I Have Boundaries

It’s important that you don’t overstretch yourself or commit to taking care of boundaries. It’s important that most of your life revolves around things that are not one person. It’s important that you maintain autonomy, have free time, have time to relax, and get breaks from stress and someone being depressed when you need them. Setting those boundaries can be difficult, especially if you want to be there and want to help. But it’s also important for both your mental health and theirs. Good boundaries look like making space for yourself, like not taking on too much work, like not doing extra chores.

Good boundaries can also mean setting expectations with your loved one with depression. For example, what things have to be done and which don’t. Someone with depression wont’ have time or energy to do everything on their to-do list every day. Many of us have seen the metaphor for a juggling act – some of the balls are glass and some of them are rubber – and like with that juggling act, with chores and household tasks or to-do lists, the important thing is knowing which you can drop and pick up again later. Setting priorities with your loved one so they can drop things when they need to – without dropping it on you – is important.

4. I Am Worried About You

husband and wife having some issues

It’s important to let your loved one know that they are loved and things will be okay. It’s also important not to pretend everything is fine. Communicating worry and concern is important. However, it’s important that you communicate in ways that are about the person. It’s useful and helpful to communicate that you are concerned someone isn’t taking care of themselves. Or, that you’re concerned they are not keeping up with things like rent. Or, that they aren’t getting enough nutrition or exercise and their mental health will deteriorate further. It’s less fine to express those concerns in terms of stigma about what others will think, what other people said, etc. While many of us lean into those concerns because they are easier to share than our own deeper worries about our loved one’s health, it’s the more difficult concerns that mean something. And, those concerns are the ones that will help your loved one to find motivation to put work into their mental health so they have the foundations to recover.

5. We Can Get Help

It’s important that your loved one is aware there are options for help. It’s important that you look at options for mental health treatment with them. In addition, you should almost always make it clear that they don’t have to go into treatment alone. Mental health treatment often makes space for family and loved ones to attend family therapy, to see you as part of treatment, and to participate. Showing that commitment to helping can mean you have the opportunity to convince your loved one they can go to treatment without doing everything alone.

Of course, getting into treatment requires personal motivation and work from the person getting help. Mental health treatment involves behavioral therapy and counseling, learning about triggers, and learning coping mechanisms to improve how you manage depression. That starts with the self, but working on family relationships and how you interact with others can also contribute immensely.

6. This is No One’s Fault

It’s easy to blame yourself for being depressed. It’s easy to blame specific circumstances or conditions. The thing is, depression is almost always an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. Conditions can contribute to it. Good habits, nutrition, and exercise can contribute to mitigating it. Stress and trauma contribute to worsening it. But, it’s no one’s fault. Reiterating that every time someone starts to doubt is important.

Dealing with depression is difficult, both for the person struggling with mental illness and the people around them. It can be difficult to watch people struggling, especially when you love those people. And, unfortunately, you can’t just fix anything. The most you can do is talk to them, try to say the right things, and be there when they need it.

If you or a loved one is struggling, help is there. And, it can help you to get back to normal. If you need help with mental health treatment, drug rehab, or alcohol rehab Compassion Recovery Center is here to help. Contact us to ask about our mental health programs and how we can support your specific requirements as you move into treatment.

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