What Can I Say to Pull My Depressed Loved One Out of It?

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

Husband comforts young wife, isolated on white

At a conference recently, a woman asked me, “How do you pull someone out of depression? What can I say to make him feel better?” My answer was of the bad-news-good news type.

First, the bad news.

You cannot.

You want your loved one to return to normal. Perhaps your spouse is not working and the lower-income is a challenge. You wonder when depression will loosen its grip and your relationship restored. Your children suffer because the parent in depression does not play with them.

Maybe it is your friend with depression. You miss your friendship. The walks you used to take together, shopping sprees, watching your favorite teams fight it out on ESPN – all of this is gone. All your friend does is sit in front of the TV or stay in bed. I know it is difficult.

You would likely never say, “Why are you not working your construction job with two broken legs?” or “Go out with me – you only have a 104-degree fever!” In much the same way, complaining and frustration will never snap your loved one out of depression. 

As deep is your longing to fix all this, you do not have the power to change someone’s depression and make them healthy. 

Now for the good news!

Repeatedly, from dozens of people I have met who struggle with depression, one common thread emerges. All I want is to know someone cares.  This is good news because it is simple to do and makes a meaningful difference. These same people have suggestions for  expressing positive messages that help: 

  • Silence is okay if you are next to me while I hide under the covers. Silence from a distance hurts.
  • Say hello. I do not need my space, I need you. 
  • Send me a text, an email, an IM, a card – anything! Let me know my life matters to you.  Keep in touch even if it takes a week, month, several months…
  • If you say you will visit, do it. I am counting desperately on that.
  • Small gestures speak many words. Bring me a coffee, or a glass of water. 
  • Mention you miss me. 
  • Remember who we were and remind me you believe we can be that again. 
  • Acknowledge I am doing what I know to do. Applaud my efforts – any effort.
  • Tell me it will be hard, but I have what it takes to get through this. 
  • Ask me outright, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Call 911 if I express any plans or intent to do so. If I’m angry, it will be temporary, and I will be alive knowing you care.
  • When you see progress, let me know you notice
  • If you tell me in anger to “take a pill,” you are being a jerk. If you remind me to take my medications, you are kind. 
  • I may not be able to believe it when you tell me you love me or care. Tell me anyway.

Most people who struggle with depression do not receive the professional treatment they need. Untreated or undertreated, they live in ever-deepening cycles of helplessness and despair. The majority who do receive proper treatment go on to lead more fulfilling and satisfying lives! 

Here’s the no-brainer. Help your loved one reach out for what could change his or her life.  Most people find a combination of medication and talk therapy most effective. 

You are in charge of you

You are not helpless or trapped. You have total control over your choices. Will you take care of yourself? 

You need healthy boundaries to protect your wellbeing. See my nine-part series on compassionate boundaries. Go to Part One to begin.

You need support. Talk about what you are going through with a friend or professional. You are not alone!

Go out and do fun things. Treat yourself to a pedicure, a walk in the park, movie night, or whatever will remind you that you matter too. Eat right, sleep well, and focus on your basic needs.


NOTE:  I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental and behavioral health challenges. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S.  (for international emergency numbers, go here ), or go to your nearest emergency room. Do not be alone. Hope and help are yours.

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