“The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” Proverbs 18:21
Scripture tells us that the words we speak can produce life or death. As a practicing psychologist, I find this to be true with respect to mental illness as well.
The words we speak over our loved ones can built them up or tear them down. Just because we haven’t experienced the same suffering, doesn’t mean that their suffering isn’t real. Yet what we say may communicate just that.
In my practice, I often hear people saying things to or about depressed loved ones that only serves to knock them down further. Often I don’t believe that is the intent, but comments are made because they don’t know better. Even the Bibles says “My people perish for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
If you aren’t sure what is inappropriate to say to a depressed loved one, read my post entitled “What Not to Say When a Loved One is Depressed.”
People who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses often struggle with self-esteem, guilt, and shame. What they long for is to know that regardless of their suffering, they are loved, accepted, and not alone.
As you wonder what to say to help a depressed loved one, let scripture be your guide: “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Here are a few things TO say to someone struggling with depression, anxiety, or some other mental illness:
-I love you. You may have said this 1000 times before, but to the depressed individual, there is no better time to hear such words than when they are struggling to love themselves and wonder if others will give up on them and stop loving them too.
-I’m here for you. This sounds like such a little thing, but to the depressed individual who feels alone in their pain, this can be amazingly comforting.
-You are important to me. It’s vital to the depressed person to know that they are still acceptable, accepted, and loved.
-I’m sorry that you are going through such a painful time. It is frequently communicated to the person with depression, anxiety, or other mental illness that they should be able to just get over it. But by expressing your sorrow for their pain communicates that you really do care, even if you don’t fully understand.
-Is there something I can do for you? This communicates your willingness to help. Sometimes a depressed loved one won’t be able to think of anything specific you can do to help, but just your offer will lend comfort and encouragement. On the other hand, often the little things weigh heavy on the depressed person’s mind. Your offer to help may really lighten their load. But as an aside, don’t offer if you don’t intend to see it through. That would make things much worse.
-Depression doesn’t mean you are losing your mind. When you suffer from depression, you can be more susceptible to believing that something is “wrong with you” and that you are the only one who suffers. Depression often has chemical roots just like a thyroid disorder. Having depression makes someone no more crazy than does having hypothyroidism or diabetes.
-You may not believe this now, but you won’t always feel this way. This might seem obvious to the nondepressed loved one, but to the depressed individual, they often need reminding that there is hope. The Bible tells us that “Joy comes in the morning” and that’s a reminder that the depressed need to hear.
-What do you think might help you feel better? Asking this question helps reorient the depressed individual to think about those things that help them feel better rather than focusing on the negative.
-Who do you have as a support system? Asking this question helps the depressed individual think about who they have to lean on through this difficult time. It also lets you know to what degree they are really alone or perceive themselves to be alone.
-Is there anything that might be making your depression worse? This question can help the depressed individual begin to think about those thoughts, attitudes, or behaviors that perpetuate their depression that they may not otherwise be aware of.
-Is there a time when your depression is worse? This question will clue you in to when they are most likely to need your support more. For some, mornings are difficult when it entails facing the whole day ahead with no change in their condition. For others, night time is the loneliest time.
-We will get through this together. This communicates your acceptance, and your love.
-Nothing. In this case, it isn’t just a cliché. Actions often do speaker louder than words. I’m reminded of the passage in the Bible when Job encountered great hardship. In Job 2:13 it says that his friends came and sat with him for seven days and nights. During that time, they didn’t speak a word because they saw how great his pain was. Words could do nothing to help his misery, but their company spoke volumes.
Remember, when you are speaking to a depressed loved one, your goal is to encourage and uplift them. “But if it were me, I would encourage you. I would try to take away your grief” (Job 16:5 NLT).
How can you encourage a loved one today?
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