It’s not easy to watch someone you care about navigate a mental health diagnosis. As part of our recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month, we want to acknowledge those supporting friends or family with these types of disorders. Walking alongside someone you care about who has this diagnosis can feel confusing, discouraging, and even frustrating. You may be wondering what to say to someone who has depression, and you’re not alone. Loved ones hesitate to have these conversations due to fear, but there are ways you can have meaningful and helpful discussions with a person with this disorder.
Understanding Diagnosed Depression
Depression is a condition that affects a person’s mood, motivation, and actions. Those with this diagnosis often experience:
- Persistent sadness, hopelessness
- Lack of energy and motivation
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies
- Thoughts of suicide
- Appetite changes
- Difficulty focusing on tasks
Your loved one may have some or all of these symptoms, and the degrees of severity can vary. They likely struggle to interact with friends or family and have difficulty maintaining commitments at work or school. You may notice an increase in isolation, and they could have a shorter temper, resulting in them lashing out due to minor inconveniences.
Coping with a Depressive Disorder
Ideally, your friend or family member with a mental health diagnosis will be in therapy or other types of treatment. However, this is not always the case. Depressive disorders can go undiagnosed as people attempt to cope on their own. They may view their symptoms as “not that bad” or feel like they can handle them without professional help. More often than not, this results in developing unhealthy coping strategies. Severe depression can lead a person to turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate their symptoms. While this may provide temporary relief, substance use can quickly turn into an addiction and resulting substance use disorder. If you are noticing someone you care about exhibiting signs of depression and utilizing unhealthy coping skills, it’s time to encourage them to seek help.
Discussing Depression With Someone You Love
One of the greatest fears related to talking to someone who has this diagnosis is the fear that this will cause them to feel alienated. You may worry that by talking about your concerns, you will drive this person further into their disorder and potential addiction. If you’re worried about someone you know who has or may have a depressive disorder, utilize these tips and sentence starters to guide your conversation:
Approach With Understanding and Concern
“Before we start, I want you to know that this is coming from a place of concern. I want to talk through these things to better understand what you are experiencing and how I can help.”
No one wants to feel like they are being attacked for their behavior. When you begin the conversation, let the other person know that you want to better understand what is going on. Tell your loved one this is not coming from a place of judgment but concern, and emphasize that you want to see them healthy and well.
Ask Questions but Accept Non-answers
“I want to know how I can support you, but you don’t have to have an answer for everything I ask. If anything I say makes you uncomfortable, please let me know.”
Acknowledging the sensitive nature of these topics at the beginning of your discussion helps your friend or family member know you are not attempting to force them into an uncomfortable place. Give them the space to think about questions or say they are not comfortable discussing a specific topic. The exception to this is if you are concerned about their safety*.
*If you have any concerns about their safety, you should connect them with a crisis response service or emergency department immediately.
Carefully Outline Your Observations
“I’ve noticed some concerning behaviors and attitude changes recently. Some specific things I have noticed are…”
This is one of the most important parts of having a discussion with someone who has depression but is not currently seeking treatment. If you’re unsure of what to say, focus on facts. Emotions can be helpful, but a majority of what you talk about should be tangible. List some of the specific behaviors you are concerned about.
Leave Room for Discussion
“I don’t want this to seem like an attack on you. If you disagree with anything I say, please let me know. I want this to be a discussion between you and me to help us better understand each other.”
By telling your friend or family member that this is meant to improve understanding, you are showing you value their voice. Make sure you are leaving space for them to disagree or offer a different perspective. While you may not agree with their point of view, a one-sided conversation will not increase understanding on either side. This can apply both to someone who is already in treatment or a person who would benefit from intensive therapy.
Treatment for Depression and Substance Use Disorders
Through your conversation, it may become evident that your loved one needs more intensive treatment. People who have a diagnosed mental illness, such as depression, and a substance use disorder require specialized care from licensed professionals. At Pillars Recovery, we offer a comprehensive dual diagnosis treatment program.
Our treatment facility in Orange County, California offers residential, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization programs based on the severity of your loved one’s addiction. We utilize evidence-based practices to ensure each resident receives the best treatment, backed by years of scientific research. If you’re concerned about a friend or family member who has developed an addiction alongside a depressive disorder, contact our team today to discuss how you can help get them the treatment they need.