If you have a friend or loved one who is experiencing hopelessness or depression, it can be difficult to know exactly what to say or do. While there isn’t any one magic thing to say that will alleviate their pain, there are many ways to offer support.
The best way to offer help is to listen, validate their experience, and provide acceptance. By offering this type of support, you can help put things into a more balanced perspective. In addition, your offer of companionship lets them know that they are not completely alone. They have someone with them even as they attempt to find their ways the a very difficult and dark period.
Some helpful hints are to listen while making the person feel un-threatened. Show them with words and actions that they can trust you. Let them know that you are available. Use your positive energy and retain inner hope that change can occur. Just because they don=t believe they can get through this doesn’t mean that you have to agree with their point of view.
Here are some words to say that will show your support, while also allowing the person to feel what they are feeling.
“You are important to me even when you are feeling down.”
People who are feeling hopeless often think they are weak for feeling this way. They may believe they have a character flaw. Reassure your friend or loved one that you can understand why they might be thinking these types of thoughts, but in your eyes it isn’t true. Offer comfort as you speak from your heart and tell them that you know for a fact that depression or hopelessness isn’t caused by personal weakness, laziness, or because they have bad karma. This statement of compassionate truth validates their experience while also offering them another point of view. Their experience is a legitimate human experience.
“I may not understand what you experiencing, but I do know that there is always meaning in suffering.”
Without trivializing their experience, you can offer a model of acceptance that may help the person begin to accept their experience. Accepting one’s suffering is often a first step to claiming it, becoming familiar with it, and potentially moving beyond it. Don’t claim that you know the meaning of their pain. Let them know that you wish they weren’t hurting, and yet you have faith that this depression is valid and meaningful.
“Would you go outside with me for a short walk?”
The hurt inside and the struggle just to get through the day makes many hopeless or depressed people want to isolate inside the safety of their home or bed. Offer to take the person outside. They will most likely resist your offer. Don’t be pushy, but if at all possible be persistent. Fresh air and a change of scenery can help them breathe, can give them access to the healing power of nature, and can get them through at least part of the day.
“Can I sit with a while? It’s okay if we don’t talk.”
Making small talk or taking care of you socially is often an impossible task to a depressed or hopeless person. Even though they are feeling lonely and isolated, they choose to be alone because the thought of keeping someone else entertained requires too much energy. Offer to be with a person and suggest sitting together outdoors, watching television, or reading together. Reassure them in advance that you have no expectations of being entertained. Don’t feel the need to fill up the silence. What is often healing or helpful is your willingness to sit comfortably, even in silence, without expectation.
“I’ve noticed lately that you have been down. Do you want to share your feelings with me? I’d like to listen.”
Listening with compassion to a person sharing dark or despairing feelings can be difficult for most people to handle. It’s a normal tendency to want to talk, give advice, or offer solutions. However, your ability to listen is immensely healing. When you give someone the freedom and safety speak, they are able to hear their own thoughts C often for the first time. Validating and reflective listening (telling them back what you think you heard them say) allows them to hear, in a new way, what is going on in their heads. Listening (not fixing or offering advice) creates movement and allows a fresh perspective to be gained.
Effective paraphrasing reflections that allow the person to feel heard and understood include:
“Is there a way you can help me see how it is for you?"
“Let me see if I understand. What you want me to recognize is…"
“That's a good point. You feel your life is not worth living…”
“I can see that you feel strongly about that. Can you tell me more?”
“I can understand how you could see it like that." Then paraphrase how you think they see things.
“When bad things have happened to you before, how did you cope?”
They may not be able to come up with an answer, but asking this type of question may trigger them to remember that they have had bad times in the past and they did somehow get through those times. This type of question may help them mobilize their inner resources. It can also help them remember that there was a time before depression and hopelessness and that there is hope for change in the future.
Let your friend or loved one ask the “Why me?” question.
Don’t answer their question, but instead encourage them to voice their beliefs. If they fall silent, one way to lead them beyond the, “Why me?” question is to say, “I don’t know why you are suffering, but I am sure it is not because you are being punished or because you’ve done something wrong. What could we do right now to help you feel better?”
“How can I be most helpful to you?”
Most likely they won’t have an answer. Perhaps they have lost interest in things they used to enjoy. Many tasks or hobbies feel overwhelming. And they may have trouble thinking, recalling things, or even focusing. However, be persistent. You never know how your interest and compassion will make a difference in their journey.
Dr. Annette Colby, RD, author of Your Highest Potential, can help you turn difficult emotions into joy, release stress, end emotional eating, and move beyond depression into an extraordinary life! Spark an amazing relationship with your self, your body, and your life!
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