When to Give Grace (and When to Speak Truth) to a Depressed Loved One
By Grant Stenzel, MS Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Living with depression is incredibly overwhelming. Despite the fact that over 16 million Americans suffer from it, it can be a dangerously solitary condition.
Source: Major Depression Among Adults
The key is to give someone who’s depressed small, measurable goals. Anything beyond that has the potential to completely shut them down. Professionally, on top of regular psychotherapy, we often refer depressed clients to psychiatrists for evaluation and potential medication. But there are things you, as the loved one of someone who’s depressed, can do to help.
When to give grace to someone who’s depressed
Do not try to cheer them up by telling them how great things are or how much worse other people have it. You may think you’re helping them see the bright side of things, but what they feel is that you’re not taking them seriously. It’s an invalidating feeling.
When it’s time to give grace, practice phrases like the following:
- “I’m so sorry you’re going through this.”
- “It must be incredibly difficult.”
- “I love you.”
- “Thank you for telling me this! I’m so glad you let me in.”
When to speak truth to someone who’s depressed
Generally, being honest with them and telling them counseling is probably in their future is a conversation best had when they’re relatively happier. Maybe they’re a morning person or maybe they just had a good day at school or work. One thing’s for sure: it’s not a good idea to scream, “You’re going to therapy!” in the middle of a fight.
Practice phrases like the following:
- “It’s so hard for me to see you in this much pain.”
- “Let’s get you some help.”
- “I love you and want what’s best for you.”
- “Can I go with you to your first session?”
It’s probably easy for you to think positively and be happy, but remember that a depressed person’s brain is quite literally broken. The pain they’re in is a sign that something is wrong, much like the pain we experience after breaking a bone. If there’s something wrong with our bodies, we go to the doctor. If there’s something wrong with our brains, we go to the counselor.
We’ll drop a little truth here: being around a depressed person isn’t much fun! It’s an uncomfortable, almost tangible feeling. Most of the time, you probably want to fix them fast so you can be comfortable again. But sometimes the best thing you can do for them is to simply let them be cry. Let them be sad. Let them be in pain. In short: try to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Listen closely, hear their story, validate their feelings and repeat. With counseling, potential medication and a consistent support network that includes you, they will pull through and feel better over time.
And remember, Stenzel Clinical has wonderful therapists across four Chicagoland locations. If you ever need someone to talk to, we’re here.