Depression: How to Talk to a Loved One Who Is Unwell

Empathy by Vicky Alvaraz on Etsy.
Empathy by Vicky Alvaraz on Etsy.

You are well. But a loved one has come to you, delicately (or not-so-delicately) telling you that she has been feeling depression symptoms.

What do you do?

To begin, consider that it probably took a lot of courage and strength to, first, admit that there was something wrong. And then, to get help in determining exactly what is wrong (she may still be in this process). Next, talking about it can be quite difficult. Being your kindest, most compassionate self is the best place to start.

Say, “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Tell her, “I care for you.” Say, “I’m so happy that you said something.” Ask, “Is there a way that I can help?” and (because she might be feeling overwhelm and not know the answer to this right now), “Will you tell me when you know how I can help?”

You care, so, do not say, “I was wondering when this would happen,” or “This is all my fault. I should have ___[fill in the blank]___.” It’s not going to help anyone for you to say, “Have you tried looking on the bright side?” or “I know just how you feel,” or “Why don’t you go for a walk? That always perks me up.” It’s no time for blame, declaring, “If you hadn’t been in that relationship/ moved away/ quit working out, you’d be fine.”

Now is the time to turn up your best listening skills. Hone your open-ended questioning talents.

Ask, “How does it feel?” and really listen to the answer. Even if you have an experience with depression, or feeling “down,” your loved one is having her own experience, which might not resemble yours at all. Try to be open to hearing about where she’s at right now.

Ask, “Have you talked to your doctor?” and follow up, asking what the doctor (or other health professional) has said or recommended. Ask about a treatment plan, and about how your loved one feels about participating in it. Show interest for her care. Offer rides or other support. Ask if she is eating well. Offer to bring food over; or better yet, tell her that you will bring food over, and if she doesn’t feel like answering the door that day, agree on a place where you will leave the food. And then do it.

Remember that this is not about you.

Your loved one might exhibit behaviors that are not normally expected or acceptable to you (like not answering the phone or door). Know that she is unwell. She isn’t intentionally being mean to you. Try to be your best generous self while she gets better. Make yourself available to her when she reaches out. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s likely harder for her as she recovers from what’s going on in her whole self.

She will be tremendously grateful that you stuck around to see her through this.

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I am writing this because I had an experience. I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all of this. You are reading the twelfth in a series of thirteen articles on surviving depression. Find the first eleven articles here.

 

2 thoughts on “Depression: How to Talk to a Loved One Who Is Unwell

  1. This is so helpful – very clear. And having actual sentences to say and not say is great. I think a lot of people – me included – panic and don’t know the “right” thing to say and end up just sitting there with a compassionate look on their face.

  2. Hi Katie–Compassionate looks are good too! There are times when words just don’t come, so sometimes, I think it helps to have a few in our back pockets. I’m glad you liked this–thank you.

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