Today we’re talking about how to help someone with depression. October is National Depression Awareness Month. Earlier in the month we’ve heard several guests share their experiences, and their hope-filled perspectives as it pertained to depression. Yet I felt that we would be remiss if we didn’t also have an episode addressing how to help someone with depression because depression doesn’t occur in isolation—it impacts our spouses, our family, our friends, and others around us. Mental health awareness is two-fold: One learning to live with it; the other learning to love through it. If you have a spouse, friend, or loved one with depression, and you want to know how to help, this is the episode for you.
By 2020, depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide: greater than heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. Depression is considered a medical condition, specifically, a mood disorder.
Everyone’s experience with depression is different but there are some general, common signs and symptoms of depression:
- Change in mood (sad, blue, irritable, agitated, angry)
- Change in socialization
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities
- Decreased energy level which can make normal daily tasks difficult to accomplish
- Changes in sleep and appetite (sleeping and/or eating too much or too little)
- Self-medicating (drugs, alcohol, spending, gambling, shopping, work)
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
While we can be prone to feel helpless to help someone with depression, particularly if we have never experienced it ourselves, there are some practical things we can do to help:
- Enter into their experience with them and be present.
- Offer to make a doctor’s appointment for them and offer to go with them.
- Make plans with them. Even if they decline, keep offering.
- Ask how you can pray for them and pray with them.
- Remain encouraging and positive.
- Meet tangible needs (i.e. carpool, pick up grocery items, run errands).
- Be willing to just sit and be with them.
- Convey there is hope.
Often, people can figure out what to DO for someone, but they often stumble over what to SAY. In my private practice, and through my own personal struggles, I’ve found this to be a huge stumbling block.
There are definitely things NOT to say to someone with depression:
- “It’s all in your head.
- “Snap out of it.”
- “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”
(All of these things convey a lack of sensitivity to the pain they are experiencing. You’d never say these things to someone who has cancer, and depression is just as much a medical diagnosis.
- “This too shall pass.”
(That is true, but it doesn’t make someone struggling with depression feel any better. Even a tornado passes, but it leaves damage and devastation in its wake.)
- “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”
(First of all, many with depression consider suicide, so it’s never a good idea to joke about dying. Secondly, most with depression don’t care about getting stronger, they just want to survive.)
- “Others are worse off than you.”
(Isn’t this true for everyone? But saying that doesn’t even acknowledge the pain the person with depression is in. And why is their pain any less valid?)
- “I know how you feel.”
(If you’ve never struggled with depression, you don’t know how they feel. Even if you have experienced depression, the situation and symptoms and complicating factors may be entirely different. It’s better not to even try to compare.)
Helpful things TO say to someone with depression:
- “I love you.”
The person with depression often can’t love themselves much less believe that others love them. They need to hear this now more than ever, even if they don’t believe it.
- “I’m here for you.”
Someone struggling with depression feels so alone. They need to know that others care enough to be present with them in their pain, rather than trying to fix it.
- “You are important to me.”
When struggling with depression, self-esteem is often at risk. They feel all alone and need the assurance that their standing in your eyes and your life doesn’t change just because of the depression.
- “I’m sorry you’re hurting.”
While I do not recommend saying you know how someone feels, I do suggest you offer kindness, compassion, and concern for their pain.
- “Is there something I can do for you?”
Often, our actions speak louder than words. When you offer to help, you enter into their pain. They may not know how you can help, but by asking the question, you open up the opportunity for dialogue.
- “You may not believe this now, but you won’t always feel this way.”
When one is struggling with depression, the whole world looks black, and the future seems to offer only more of the same. It can be helpful to encourage them that this is a season, and they won’t always be in this place.
- “What might help you feel better?”
This can help them start to think pro-actively about things that help, and can clue you in on how you can support them. For example, if they mention that they always feel better after a walk, offer to walk with them.
- “What might be making your depression worse?”
This can help them step back and take a look at things they need to change (e.g. sleeping too late in the morning may leave them feeling lethargic and sluggish all day, so setting an alarm to get up earlier might combat that), and can also help you better know how to support and pray for them.
- “We will get through this together.”
Depression can leave one feeling incredibly lonely, isolated, and as if no one cares or understands. This simple statement conveys support. You aren’t trying to change them or solve the problem, just be present.
Remember, someone else’s experience with depression isn’t your fault and you can’t “fix it” for them-only God can do that. But you can support.
- Say nothing.
Words get us into trouble so often, when really, just being present often conveys much greater support than having the perfect thing to say or advice to try to make things better.
In my private practice, and when I speak on the subject, I’m often asked if a loved one should mention suicide with someone experiencing depression. I find that so many people are afraid that if they mention suicide, it’ll “put the idea into their head.” Let me assure you, you’re not that powerful. If someone is deeply depressed, they’ve probably already had some thoughts in that direction already.
I’m sure you would much rather ask, “I know things are pretty dark right now. Have you ever thought of hurting yourself?” than you would, “Why didn’t s/he tell me how they were feeling?” or “Why didn’t I do something?” If you ask a friend of someone you love if they’re contemplating suicide, it shows you care, and it opens up a dialogue to let them express their true feelings and can be the first step toward getting them help.
Watch on YouTube:
Quotables from the Episode:
- Depression will be our greatest epidemic worldwide by 2020
- No one wants to be depressed. If they knew how to alleviate the depression on their own, they would
- Our comments should communicate love, concern, and support, not judgment, shame, or criticism.
- John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy, but I have come that they might have life and have it to the full.”
Recommended Resources: (If there are affiliate links in this post, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no extra cost to you)).
- “Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, winner of the Christian Literary Award Reader’s Choice Award
- “Hope Prevails Bible Study” by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, winner of the Christian Literary Award Reader’s Choice Award
- This Thing Called Depression: Signs and Symptoms
- 10 Verses of Hope for When You are Down or Depressed
- 15 Ways to Help a Depressed Husband or Wife
- Dear Patient, Now I Understand
- 5 Promises from God to the Patient I Didn’t Meet
- Hope Prevails Despite Depression
- A Letter To One Struggling with Depression
- How Do I Know if I’m Depressed? Common Symptoms of Depression
- 20 Ways to Fight Depression
- Can I Be Cured of Depression
- 10 Things to Know If You Have a Depressed Loved One
- How To Help a Depressed Loved One
- What To Say To Someone Who is Depressed
- What Not To Say To Someone with Depression
Social Media Links for Host:
For more hope, stay connected with Dr. Bengtson at:
Order Book Hope Prevails / Website / Blog / Facebook / Twitter (@DrMBengtson) / LinkedIn / Instagram / Pinterest / YouTube
About Dr. Michelle Bengtson:
Dr. Bengtson studied neuroscience and is board certified in clinical neuropsychology. She established her own clinical practice in the Dallas area. From her professional and personal life, she recognized a deep lack of understanding of the call to “renew our minds” and the transformational effects a robust understanding of this has on our physical and mental health and outlook.
Dr. Bengtson lives to foster regeneration and renew life in her listeners. She recognizes brokenness in her life and others’ and offers steps we can take as we walk with Christ through the thin places.
Dr. Bengtson authored the award-winning “Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression” and its award-winning companion “Hope Prevails Bible Study.” Her third book, “Breaking Anxiety’s Grip: How to Reclaim the Peace God Promises” released on September 17, 2019 (Revell). She blogs at DrMichelleB.com and maintains a Monday morning radio show and podcast at GraceandTruthRadio.world. She is a frequent guest on Fox News Radio and speaks at conferences and churches internationally.
Radio Air Date: October 28, 2019
Hosted By: Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Audio Technical Support: Bryce Bengtson
I was so blessed by this episode. I listened on Monday but always love to see the You Tube presentation of the episode. So thankful for your husband, Scott, being with you and giving a first hand testimony of what it was like being your caregiver when you walked through the depression. He added great insight as together the two of you could share what it was like to be in a depression situation and all the helps you found available and that there was victory and healing for the depression you experienced. Such good helps and insights from both of you. Thank you so much for being open and transparent with your informations and answers. I am always so encouraged and blessed by your messages, Dr. Michelle. Please thank Scott for his part in this episode. The two of you do so well together sharing.
Solid counsel, Michelle. What’s been your experience in helping a depressed friend or family member who is not of faith? Can they grasp an eternal hope/Jesus and grow out of depression w/o your stance on faith?
I’m so glad to see you here, Sue. Honestly, I’ve counseled many who did not have a faith in God, but I notice a difference when they don’t have that eternal hope to cling to. I have found that simply living out my faith and sharing tidbits (not preaching, just sowing seeds when the Lord opened a door) gave them a reason for curiosity and then God has an open door for them to work. One of the best things we can do for those without a sure faith-filled foundation is to pray that God will use their situation to turn them toward Him and His heart for them.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights for coming alongside someone who is suffering from depression.
My daughter has been suffering with post-partum OCD which also has components of depression for months now. She is on medication and in therapy, but can still struggle. I have found in my experience with her in this season that it works best to respond just how you outlined. It really does bless the person and indeed does help them.
Karen, I’m so sorry to hear of your daughter’s suffering. I’ve been there, with postpartum, and it felt so lonely and isolating. I’m glad she has you in her life. I’m also glad to hear she has availed herself of therapy and medication to help her. She might also benefit from my first book, “Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression.” It’s a very vulnerable book, but the kind I wish I had had when I was suffering. Blessings to you both.
Thank you Michelle, this is great! I especially appreciate your “what not to say” list! So important.
Pinned & tweeted.
Thanks for linking up at InstaEncouragements!
Thanks so much Patsy. I’ve heard many of those things said to me, or to the many patients I have treated over the years. Sometimes we just don’t know any better. And sometimes we speak to fill a silence, when perhaps silence and a hug would mean so much more.
This is just what I needed today! My teenage son missed his morning classes just this morning, because he was in a really dark place and just needed to know I was there for him. Unfortunately, I did say one of the things I shouldn’t have said, but I also said a lot of the things I should have said. My heart just breaks because I can’t fix it for him and make things better. I printed off the things to say and not to say so my husband and I can hopefully help him get through this. Thank you so much for this timely advice!