3. Saying things like “it’s not that big of a deal,” “you just need some fresh air,” or “it’s time to move on” rarely help.
It’s easy to tell someone you love “positive” things like this because you think you’re giving them hope and helping ease their pain, but to someone suffering from depression these kinds of simple, clichéd phrases often come across the wrong way – thoughtless, empty and essentially worthless.
The truth is phrases like these don’t address reality and only agitate the anxiety within, making a depressed person wish they were alone. It’s like trying to strap a two-inch Band-Aid on a foot-long, gaping wound.
So what can you say instead? Again, there’s no “one size fits all” answer. Just be supportive.
Here’s a rough idea of what I might say (maybe not all at once):
“I love you, and I’m not the only one. Please believe me. Please believe that the people who love you are worth living for even when you don’t feel it. Strive to re-visit the good memories depression is hiding from you, and project them into the present. Breathe. Be brave. Be here and take today just one step at a time. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs 900 pounds. Eat when food itself sickens you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason. I’m here now, and I’ll be here tomorrow too. I believe in you. We are in this together.”
And then I’d give them a long, silent hug. Again and again.
4. Even when they’re pushing you away, you can still be there for them.
“I don’t want to see anyone. I lie in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and nothingness washing over me like a sluggish wave. Whatever is happening to me is my own fault. I have done something wrong, something so huge I can’t even see it, something that’s drowning me. I am inadequate and stupid, without worth. I might as well be dead.”
That quote from Margaret Atwood’s book, Cat’s Eye, reminds me of the desperate loneliness and despondency one feels when depressed. But even though depression makes a person feel hopelessly alone, that’s often exactly what depression motivates a person to seek, more isolation. People suffering from depression typically get frustrated with feeling like they’re a burden on their loved ones. This causes them to isolate themselves and push away the very people they need the most.
If a loved one becomes distant through their depression, just do your best to remind them as often as possible that you’re still nearby, but don’t force them to socialize or talk about their feelings if they don’t want to. Be patient. Ease into it.
Keep in mind that even though they may want their space, this doesn’t mean they want to face their pain alone 24/7. Schedule in time to spend with them. Offer to take them to their favorite restaurant, or even pick up some tasty to-go food for them. Introduce plenty of opportunities to create informal one on one time where you can break them out of their routine, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Reach out to them at random intervals. Be a present, living reminder that they are not alone.