Here are some helpful tricks I have found to be useful when speaking to a depressed person:
Person: Everything we do is really pointless because we’re all going to die anyway.
You: That may be true. I’m hungry. What do you want for breakfast? Toast? Eggs?
*Redirection is your new best friend. Let them talk about the existential thoughts roiling inside them. You talk about food and how much you adore eggs and bacon. Let them know you heard what they said, validate them and redirect.
They have enough existentialism for both of you. Promise.
Person: I have no motivation to do anything.
You: Ugh. That’s awful. So I read a novel the other day that I thought was incredibly interesting. *Tell them about it* Oh, by they way, I’m about to do the piles of laundry I’ve been avoiding and watch a movie. Want to keep me company?
*Again, Redirect. Don’t try to “fix them.” Don’t try to immediately go into things they could do. Redirect the conversation and then maybe later approach them and say you’d like some company accomplishing some task. It’s okay if they say no. Keep offering.
Person: No one loves me or would care if I just didn’t exist.
You: So what you’re saying is you DON’T want to watch a romantic comedy. Cool. Because I wanted to watch an action movie anyway.
*Depression is not a logical illness. You can’t reason with it. You can’t convince it to be something else. A person can be the most loved person in the world and still feel incredibly alone. So when a person says, “No one loves me” it’s not about the reality of whether or not they are actually loved, it’s about the fact that they cannot feel it. They feel nothing but the void and the void tells them they—and everyone around them—would be better off with them not existing.
It’s okay to joke with a depressed person, by the way. Acknowledge the elephant in the room lightly.
Why not tell them you love them? You can, but I’ve found that “I love yous” take energy. When you tell someone you love them, you’re attempting to establish a connection; one a depressed person may not be able to return. Also, saying that you, indeed, love them can make them feel invalidated. As if they have “no right” to feel unloved.
You’re there. You’re present. They know you love them even if they can’t feel it. It’s implied.
Person: I just want to be alone.
You: That’s fine. I wanted to sit and read my novel anyway. *Sit and read your novel*
*Often when a depressed person says they want to be alone, it means they don’t have the energy to “entertain” another person’s need. To be polite, they say they need to be alone. They know they’re not a bucket of laughs right now, they know they’re not exactly rainbows and sunshine at the moment and they don’t want to affect you negatively or “waste your time” or “keep you from something important.”
But I promise you, depressed people desperately want connection. Sometimes the best way to achieve this is just by “being.” Be there. Be present. Be tangible.
Make sure you let them know that you “being there” is not an inconvenience to you. Make being there YOUR idea. Don’t make demands for a conversation, just be.
We often ask depressed people to reach out if they need something … but the way they reach out is different than a person who isn’t depressed. A depressed person may reach out by letting you into their deepest, darkest thoughts.
When they say things like, “I have no motivation to do anything.”
That IS them reaching out. They are telling you they can’t reach out. They are telling you they have no desire to make plans or establish a connection.
They’re saying, “Please someone, ANYONE help me.”
I think a lot of us don’t know what to do with our depressed loved ones. We don’t know how to behave or what to say.
I say again: Redirect, redirect, redirect. Your new favorite boy band: Redirection