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Group 401

What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Dos and Don’ts

On any given day, there are a plethora of factors that could play into one’s mood: The weather, the holidays, Monday mornings, and so on. It is normal to feel circumstantially sad or to end up with a case of the winter blues. But how does this differ from clinical depression?

According to Dr. Eva Ritvo, the MD vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, “depression is a medical illness”. However, we live in a society that doesn’t always treat depression/mental illness as a disease. How can we remove the stigma that physical pain and mental pain are on opposite sides of the spectrum? One way to start is how we approach how we deal with depression. If someone you know is struggling with depression, you might not know what to say or how to help. You want to be supportive, but you don’t want to say the wrong thing. The list below contains some do’s and don’ts when it comes to reaching out someone who may be depressed.


  • Compare one’s depression to the adversities others may face. Though the news may display a multitude of atrocities, suggesting that someone’s life “could be worse” is not a helpful tidbit. Instead, acknowledge that the pain is real, for example, you might say,“I’m sorry that you’re hurting”.
  • Suggest that the depression is “all in your head”. Just because depression does not present itself like some visible physical ailments do – like a cut or a bruise – does not mean it’s not there. Even if you do not understand your loved one’s depression, this does not mean you cannot validate their feelings.
  • Offer alcohol as a coping skill. Advising that a drink might help “calm your nerves” or “take the edge off” is a dangerous suggestion. Alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate symptoms.


  • Make small suggestions. Further show your support by proposing that you two do something together. You can say to your loved one, “Let’s take a walk together and get some fresh air.” You can also suggest an activity, such as going to the movies or to the park.
  • Propose therapy as an option – especially if your loved one is withdrawn. You can say “I want to help you – but maybe some professional help will allow you to feel much better.”
  • Encourage and validate progress. For example, you might say, “It’s nice to see you enjoying certain things again. It takes time to heal from a broken bone, a surgery, or cancer. Similarly, your loved one will not improve from professional help overnight. But, recognizing their baby steps could go a long way toward assisting in their recovery.

Our final “do” is an important one.
Do, remember, that a loved ones depression or mental illness can be too much for you to handle alone. Horizon Health Services offers help for people dealing with depression, dysthymia and other mental health disorders. If you or someone you love is experiencing any symptoms of depression and live in the Western New York area, please contact us at (716) 831-1800. We can help.