When someone close to you discloses a struggle with depression, it can be tricky to respond in a way that demonstrates love and support.

The topic of depression can feel awkward and intimidating—especially if you’ve never had personal experience with it. What’s more, the pressure to say “just the right thing” can feel daunting.

12 Do’s and Don’ts When Supporting Someone With Depression

The following 12 tips may help you navigate difficult discussions about depression. Consider these suggestions when expressing care and concern for your depressed friend or loved one.

6 Things to DO 

1. DO listen.

The sole act of being listened to without judgment can be the most helpful thing you can offer. Resist the urge to problem-solve or ask many questions. Instead, stay present in the conversation. Concentrate on being a good listener.

Your loved one might not be ready to share details with you. It may be difficult for them to fully or clearly express the pain that theyre feeling. Respect their pace of healing, and don’t push for details.

2. DO acknowledge their struggle.

Empathy and compassion can be tremendously helpful and validating

daughter comforting her dad with depression

3. DO let the person know they matter to you.

Wrestling with depression can feel lonely and isolating. The darkness of depression can block the ability to see how much they’re loved.

4. DO reassure your depressed loved one of your continued support.

Let them know you will be there for them. Your support can be powerful and comforting.

5. DO recognize and reinforce their positive qualities.

Be specific and sincere. People with depression often struggle with self-loathing and a harsh inner dialogue. As a result, they may not be able to see their goodness or worthiness. Additionally, they may be overwhelmed with feelings of shame or guilt.

friend supporting a friend with depression

Depression May Be More Common Than You Think

According to the  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, depression affects nearly 1 in 10 Americans.

It’s even more common among teens and young adults. An estimated 1 in 5 teens and young adults struggles with depression.

6. DO prioritize your self-care.

Being the support person for someone with depression can be challenging. Their irritability, low mood, and isolating behaviors can be difficult to navigate.

Take time to recharge and meet your commitments. Your emotional well-being is essential, too. It will allow you to support others healthily.

wife comforting husband with depression

“Remember: Sometimes the most profound actions you can take to help a loved one are  the simplest. Listen, reach out when you can, and offer genuine encouragement.”

6 Things to AVOID 

1. DON’T offer advice or “quick fixes.”

Unless someone has specifically asked for suggestions, avoid the temptation to advise on things the person can do to alleviate their symptoms.

While suggestions often come from a desire to help, phrases that start with You need to…” or You would feel better if you…” may not be well-received.

2. DON’T argue with them about being depressed.

When your seemingly smiley and happy loved one tells you they’re depressed, it may surprise you.

However, it’s not uncommon. They may have been putting a great deal of energy into appearing happy” and fine” to the outside world.

Furthermore, don’t minimize their suffering. Don’t tell them they’re wrong to feel the way they do.

3. DON’T blame yourself—or them.

If your friend, partner, or child is depressed and unhappy, you may be tempted to consciously or unconsciously feel responsible. You may even feel threatened and think it’s somehow your fault 

It isn’t about you. Your loved one needs your unconditional love and support.

Likewise, know they are not choosing to be depressed. They can’t just “snap out of it.”

4. DON’T say What can I do to help?” or Let me know what you need.”

These sentiments, while well-intended, place the responsibility of asking for help onto the person that is already struggling mentally and emotionally.

Figuring out what could be helpful might feel crushing to a person who is combatting the mental fog of depression. What’s more, reaching out to you for that help may be overwhelming to someone who is already feeling emotionally depleted.

Instead, be specific about ways you’re willing and able to help. Physical and emotional fatigue in depression can make completing everyday tasks difficult.

Picking up groceries, walking the dog, dropping off a meal, sitting near them while doing homework, etc. can offer some relief and allow the person to concentrate on their mental health and well-being.

mother comforting daughter with depression

5. DON’T compare your loved one’s experience to your own or anyone else’s.

No two people’s experiences with depression are the same. Statements such as I know exactly how you feel” can be invalidating. We cannot possibly know exactly how another person feels.

Similarly, resist the urge to compare their situation to another person who has it worse.”

6. DON’T be afraid to gently ask life-saving questions.

You may think it’s impolite or scary to ask if a loved one is contemplating suicide. You might ask if they feel like harming themselves. Or do they ever wish they were dead or have thoughts of dying. If so, you’ll want to know if they have a plan for taking their life.

If so, don’t judge them. Remain calm and supportive. Encourage them to contact their mental health professional and help keep them safe.

depressed teenage boy with head down on book

If you find yourself stuck, try I don’t know what to say, but I care about you. And I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”

Some Things to Keep in Mind

These conversations dont always go as planned. What you believe could be helpful to someone with depression might not be what that person needs at that moment. Thats okay

If youre feeling lost or confused, take some time to learn about depression and its impacts. The U.S. National Institute on Mental Health is a great place to start.

Sarah Armsey

Sarah Armsey, LPC, CADC, works with individuals and groups with addictions, relationship difficulties, grief and loss, trauma, anxiety, and depression. She partners with you to process your emotions, unlearn unhelpful patterns, and feel less stuck and more connected to others.
sarah armsey lpc cadc sm