Yesterday, an AskReddit thread asked people to explain what people with depression actually want you to say to them. If you’re a friend, partner, or family member of someone who struggles with depression, you probably already know that figuring out how to approach another person’s depression is a thorny issue. What should you say? What should you not say? Should you say anything at all? If you say the wrong thing, will you make things worse for your loved one? If you reach out, will they feel like you’re smothering them? If you don’t, will they feel abandoned?
This isn’t a theoretical challenge. Last year, 16.1 million Americans — nearly 7 percent of the U.S. population — experienced at least one major depressive episode, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That means that the chances are high that someone you love (if not you yourself) has experienced or will experience depression at some point. And when that happens — when you’re called upon to support a depressed friend or sibling or romantic partner — what do you do?
Depression is a complex disorder that can be a truly debilitating, and the question “What should you say to someone with depression?” doesn’t have a simple answer. In yesterday’s AskReddit thread, redditors chimed in with hundreds of suggestions and comments, but one thing that the thread makes abundantly clear is that not everyone experiences depression in the same way. Some people crave human contact, and some don’t. Some want to talk about their feelings, and others seek distraction. There’s no single “perfect” sentence that will make someone feel better.
If you have a loved one who is coping with depression, it may take some trial and error to figure out how to best support that person. But these suggestions from redditors may be a place to start.
1. “You’re invited.”
Redditor fajardo99 suggested a simple phrase: “[C]ome hang out with us.” Many agreed, recalling from their own experiences how isolating depression can be, and how important it was for friends to keep inviting them to do things. A number of people added that it’s especially important to keep inviting a depressed friend to hang out, even if he or she doesn’t always (or often) take you up on the offer. When you're depressed, simply knowing that someone likes you and wants your company, even if you’re not currently capable of socializing, can make a difference. (Redditors also acknowledged that it can be really frustrating to repeatedly invite someone to do something and get rejected. But, if you value your friendship, and you know your friend is having a hard time, hang in there. Your friend isn’t saying “no” because he or she doesn’t like you.)
2. Sometimes hugs are better than words.
Some commenters said that what helped them the most weren’t words at all, but, rather, some simple physical contact. Never underestimate the power of a really good hug.
3. “I know you’re doing your best.”
A number of redditors suggested acknowledging that your depressed loved one is doing the best they can. Coping with depression requires a lot of emotional, mental, and physical energy — even if, from the outside, it looks like someone isn't doing much more than simply getting out of bed in the morning. Recognizing the work that your loved one is doing just to get through the day can be a way of showing that you love and value them.
4. Just listen.
Some redditors wrote that what they really need when they’re struggling with depression is someone who will simply take the time listen to them, and respect what they have to say.
5. "Let's just hang out."
Redditor Dr_Gene_Kaufman_Esq pointed out that sometimes what a depressed person needs is simply to hang out, have some fun, and not focus on depression.
6. "Your feelings are real, and they matter."
A few different redditors expressed how valuable it can be for someone to simply recognize a depressed person's feelings as real and important, without trying to "fix" those feelings.
7. "I love you."
For some people, the best expression of support was a simple, "I love you."
8. Some people don’t want to talk at all.
When mired in the pit of depression, some people just don’t want to talk, and that’s their right. If someone makes clear that they need space, give it to them, while at the same time letting them know that you’ll still be around when they are able to reengage.
Unless you’re harboring some rather unusual psychic abilities (in which case, you should monetize that), you can’t know exactly how your loved one is feeling or what he or she needs to hear from you. So ask. You can say, “It really sucks that you’re feeling this way, and I want to support you, but I’m not sure how. What would you like me to do? How can I help?” Your loved one may have a very specific answer (“Give me a hug.” “Listen to me.” “Leave me alone.”), or they might not. And that’s OK, too. Just make clear that you’re there, you're supportive, and you aren’t going to disappear.
You can check out the full AskReddit thread here.