Depression is hard to live with, hard to explain and hard to understand if you’ve never suffered it before.
And until recent years it’s been a subject that’s been ignored at best and shamed at worse.
Which can make finding the right words to talk to someone with depression extremely difficult.
Everyone who has lived with the illness has a unique experience and different ways of coping.
But from my personal experience, these are the things people said to me that really helped:
1. You deserve help
Depression’s a bastard in that when you have it you often feel like you deserve it.
It’s hard to imagine a time when life isn’t going to be this dark, particularly because you don’t think you deserve the help to make it better.
This can mean we stop taking our medication or seeing a therapist and can lead to us feeling incredibly guilty for not working.
Reminding us that we deserve help can help us take the steps to get better.
2. Do you want me to go see the doctor with you?
In the same vein as the previous point, this question reminds us that we have as much right to see a doctor as someone with a broken arm does.
Which is important, because it can be easy for us to feel guilty about going to the GP, believing that we’re taking the appointment away from someone who needs it more.
The National Institute of Mental Health reckons it takes over 10 years for most people with mental illnesses to get medical help.
3. I’m here if you want to talk, cry, or just be
Sometimes we won’t want to talk and it’s easier to shut everyone out than try to explain feelings we can’t even understand ourselves.
But just because we can become withdrawn and isolate ourselves doesn’t mean we want to deal with everything alone.
Yes, this can make it difficult to know when to offer your shoulder to cry on, but just saying ‘I’m here if you need me’ can make a huge difference.
Often we withdraw because we believe that we don’t deserve companionship.
Knowing that people are willing to listen to us can help normalise an illness that’s often not talked about, and help make our feelings valid.
And other times just sitting in a room with someone in silence while they read or get on with things can help us feel that we’re not alone.
4. You’re awesome
Depression can make you feel like a worthless shell of your former self.
It’s easy for us to get wrapped up in our low self-esteem and believe that everyone views us as the worse possible version of ourselves.
Telling us that you like us for a particular reason can test those negative thoughts and remind us that we’re not total crap.
5. Have you remembered to take your medication?
Not everyone who has depression takes medication, but for some it’s literally a life saver.
Don’t get me wrong, one of the most annoying things my mother kept doing when she found out I had depression was to constantly remind me to take my pills. After all, I’m a fully grown grown adult, not a child. So you can expect some sass and snarky remarks every time you ask this.
However, I’m so happy my mother continued asking me, because I really needed them at the time and when your mind’s occupied on how futile your existence is, it’s easy to forget to take your meds.
It also helped make taking medication feel like a normal part of my routine, rather than something to be ashamed of.
Of course, if the person has got the taking their meds thing down, it’s probably best not to irritate them with a pointless question.
6. Do you want to go on a walk?
Do NOT tell someone with depression that they should just get out of the house more.
When each step feels like a gargantuan task of Herculaneum proportions, it’s not just anything. It’s hard.
However, exercise can help alleviate symptoms and going out with a supportive friend can make leaving the house seem easier.
Seeing nature and feeling the fresh air with the company of someone who cares can be incredibly revitalising.
7. Can I help you with anything?
Some days leaving the house is just not going to happen. On days when you can barely lift your head off your pillow, getting dressed and walking outside feels like running a marathon without any training.
Things like simply offering to buy milk and pop it over eliminates one part of the task and makes it easier to get up to make a cup of tea. It sounds so simple, but when in a depressive episode those simple things can be near impossible to accomplish.
8. Let’s have a hug
Sometimes a hug can say all the things you can’t.
When both people are grappling to find the words to talk about an illness so varying and complex, a hug can be the perfect way to say ‘I’m here and while depression is scary, I’m not scared to to be close to you when you’re battling with it.’