Signs of depression should never be ignored. Know what to watch for so you’re prepared to help someone if they need it.
What you can say
For a long time, no one really talked about depression at all. Now we’re working hard to change that — and we need to learn how to talk about depression in the right way. You can’t help someone with depression in any meaningful way without talking to them about it. That’s why it’s so important to have the courage to speak up and find your words.
Source: Kaiser Permanente consumer poll, 2017
When someone says they’re depressed
There’s no perfect way to respond when someone talks to you about something like depression. Just listening with an open mind can help them feel understood and supported. There are also simple things you can say to let them know you care about them and want to help.
Find your words
- “You’re not alone in this. I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”
- “Asking for help is a sign of strength. Have you talked to your doctor about this?”
- “I’m here for you. Whenever you want to talk, I’ll listen — I’m just a call or a text away.”
- “Depression is a real health issue that can be treated. What steps can you take to talk to a doctor or counselor about how you’re feeling?”
- “What can I do to support you?”
Asking if someone’s OK
If you think someone is depressed, talk to them about it. It might be uncomfortable, but it can make a real difference — especially if they’ve been too afraid or embarrassed to reach out for help. Approaching them and offering your support sends a powerful message that they’re not alone.
Find your words
- “I’ve noticed that you’ve been _____. Is there anything you want to talk about?”
- “Lately I’ve gotten the feeling that you’re having a difficult time, and I’m worried about you. What’s going on?”
- “It seems like you are going through a lot right now. Can we talk about what’s bothering you? Maybe I can help.”
- “You seem really down lately, and I’m starting to wonder if you might be depressed.”
- “I care about you, and it seems like you’re really struggling. Would you be open to talking to a doctor or counselor about what you’re going through?”
Words to avoid
Talking about depression can be tough, even when you have the best intentions. Certain things that sound helpful really don’t help — in fact, they might make someone feel like you aren’t taking their problems seriously.
What not to say and why
“I know exactly how you feel.”
Why? Because no one knows exactly how anyone else feels. This is not a helpful way to make someone feel understood when their depression has become overwhelming.
“Everyone gets depressed sometimes.”
Why? Because it sounds dismissive — and it’s not true. Everyone gets sad sometimes or has a bad day. Everyone does not get depressed.
“You have no reason to be depressed.”
Why? Because it can make people feel guilty, ashamed, or like their feelings don’t count. Life events can sometimes play a role, but depression often has no specific reason, trigger, or cause.
“Hang in there. It will pass.”
Why? Because it’s unhelpful and untrue. Chances are, they’ve been feeling this way for some time, and it hasn’t gotten better — and that’s why they’re asking for support.
“Don’t be so negative. Think happy thoughts.”
Why? Because if it was that simple, depression wouldn’t exist. This statement implies that depression is a choice — which is false. You can’t just will or wish it away.