When someone we care for, whether a spouse, parent, sibling, or child, is showing signs and symptoms of depression, it can be profoundly worrisome and distressing. If you want to have a conversation with a loved one about your concerns, you’ve come to the right place.
Many people wonder how to set the scene for a conversation, how to initiate the discussion, and what to do in response to the numerous ways your loved one can potentially react. Use this guide to help you plan and stay on track when you start to feel overwhelmed about how to help a loved one with depression.
When and Where Should I Talk to My Loved One About Depression?
Choose a time and place where you can talk openly and easily, without feeling as though you are being rushed or distracted. Your friend or loved one may need to feel that you have all the time in the world to listen to them. Be sure that the time is right for both of you.
It’s essential to make sure the time is right, and so is the location of your conversation. A few places you may want to consider are:
- On a walk: You can try inviting your loved one on a walk to explore the nearby park or wander around the neighborhood. Sometimes having a conversation side by side instead of facing someone can be beneficial for easing any potential tension or pressure.
- At home: Having a serious conversation with someone you care for needs to be in a comfortable environment. The discussion you’re going to have can stir a mix of emotions, so it’s essential to allow them to feel safe to explore and express whatever they need. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in their home, but in any environment that allows for privacy and comfort.
- During an enjoyable activity: Like walking side by side, participating in an enjoyable activity can make the conversation easier. You can initiate a discussion while cooking dinner or playing a board game, for example.
What If I See Something Online That Worries Me?
Your loved one may post something on social media that causes you concern. It’s best to act right away but always keep their privacy in mind. Send them a private message or contact them directly via phone to check in on them. There is no need to feel hesitant about contacting them or worried that you may put negative thoughts in their mind, do not stress. You may discover that reaching out to check on them provides a great sense of comfort and relief.
How Do I Start the Conversation About My Concerns?
Sometimes starting can be the most challenging part, often because we fear that we will say the wrong thing. Does this sound like something you’re experiencing? If so, here are a few statements to consider when planning your discussion:
- I’ve wanted to spend some extra time with you. Would you like to go on a walk with me?
- How have you been feeling lately? I hope you know that I am here to support you however I can.
- This week has been stressful. How was yours? You don’t seem like yourself the last few days.
- How is everything going at work (or home or school)?
It’s okay to approach the conversation with some directness, but be sure you’re communicating that you are not angry or upset with them. Let them know you are checking in because they need to know you care and are concerned. If you approach the topic with compassion and love, you will not go wrong. Saying something at all is far better than saying nothing at all as it shows your loved one that they can turn to you in times of need.
What Do I Say When They Start to Open Up?
When your loved one starts to share a bit more about what they’re experiencing, actively listen and allow space for silence. Silence may feel uncomfortable but can also be incredibly beneficial to processing thoughts and feelings. Active listening is equally helpful, which you can show through head nods, eye contact, and other non-verbal cues.
When you want to keep the conversation going, here are a few examples of statements you can use:
- Ask open-ended questions: “Have you felt this way in the past? How long have you been experiencing these feelings?”
- Tell them they’re not alone: “I’m grateful you’re telling me how you feel. I hope you know that you are not alone. Many people experience similar feelings and can seek resources to help them. Is that something you may be interested in?”
- Reassure them: “I can’t imagine how difficult it is to talk about this. Please take your time. I’m here to listen and there is no rush.”
- Ask direct questions when needed: Direct questions may be critical depending on your loved one’s situation. Asking, “are you having thoughts about suicide? Have you taken any steps or actions to carry out a plan?”
Can I Ask About Suicidal Thoughts?
You can certainly ask about suicide and doing so may save your loved one’s life. A wealth of research literature shows that asking a person about suicidal ideation and their potential plans does not put any thought in their head. The opposite is true. Asking about suicide and speaking about it with a compassionate, non-judgmental attitude can significantly minimize risk.
What If It Doesn’t Go Well?
Having this type of conversation is challenging for all involved. Preparing for things not to go according to plan is essential. Your loved one may not be ready to discuss their feelings at that moment, and that’s okay. You want to let them know it is their choice to talk about it; do not pressure them to open up before they’re ready. Knowing you are willing to have the conversation whenever they are ready will greatly increase the chances of them reaching out in the future.
That said, you know your friend or family member best. If you feel they are at risk of immediate harm, act immediately. You do not want to keep it a secret, and you want to help them seek support right away. You can offer to go with them to the emergency room, make the emergency call on their behalf, or contact a suicide prevention hotline together. Make sure you stay with them but give them privacy when needed (at the hospital or during conversations with a professional). Respecting their boundaries while protecting their safety is the best thing you can do to show compassion in an emergency.
The Conversation is Over. What Now?
You can set up a safety plan with them. Write everything down on paper or ask them to share their thoughts and feelings about what they’d like to do next. You can also actively help them connect with help by planning appointments, taking them to the doctor, or accompanying them to see a counselor. You can also suggest they join an online forum and meet others grappling with similar issues.
Showing you care and that you plan to be by their side throughout their mental health journey is at the heart of a meaningful conversation. If you continue to feel uneasy about starting a conversation, you can also seek out a mental health professional to discuss your concerns. To take care of others, we must also take care of ourselves.
If you need support, please do not hesitate to contact us today. And remember, there is hope in taking action.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.