10 things to say to, or do with a depressed person


In my last post, I explained my rationale for not being able to stipulate a table of formulae on what to do to help oneself or loved ones out of depression. Each situation is specific to its contributing factors. However, I will consolidate here some of the things that were said to me or done which relieved me of my pain, albeit temporarily.

The longterm solution is, in my opinion, to find the root causes of the stressors and factors behind the depression, and confront and resolve those issues.

Nevertheless, here are few things my friends have said and done which have helped me:

  • “I am here for you, whenever you want.”:

This made me felt I had someone to hold on to, even though I had no strength or desire to talk to anyone. The thought of a friend who would not forsake me, reassured me that I was loved despite my destitute circumstances.

  • “Hey! Did you see the latest App / read the news about X funny incident?” etc:

Instead of asking “How are you?”, to which the response would inevitably be “Sh!t” from me, my friend Slo simply sent me a message every day to talk to me about irrelevant topics. Modern technology definitely made it easy and inexpensive. Even though this had nothing to do with my health or depression, these quips distracted me from my consistent drone of crying bouts and stimulated my curiosity to poke my head from under the covers.

  • Just lie with me when I cry:

My husband just lay beside me when I sprawled out on the living room carpet wailing, crying, and choking. He brought me tissue paper, and hugged me. He did not ask me why, or tell me not to cry. He just sat there with me. Then I got tired from crying and fell asleep, and when I woke up, I felt an increment of release and comfort.

  • “I cannot necessarily agree or understand how you feel, but I respect this is your perspective and your emotions”

My thoughts were undoubtedly irrational in my worst depressive episodes. I lamented about life and complained about every menial aspect. I had no confidence in myself despite my so-called achievements (see, I still do not have enough confidence in myself). I had no hope. Every day I told Timmie, there was no point in living, work sucks, I hated myself, and I would prefer to rot at home instead of go do some exercise.

In the beginning, Timmie tried to reason with me, and gave me evidence how living could be meaningful, how I could help others, how I could change jobs, and how my worries were exaggerated. He tried to paint the comparative picture for me, that I had a blessed life and many things for which to be thankful — I had a counter argument for every point he raised. It deflated him, and made me feel worse and guilty. Eventually Timmie realized that when I was spiraling in my thoughts, reasoning with me was not going to help. I was not looking for a debate.

What I needed was empathy, or at least sympathy – and reassurance that it was fine to feel the sadness and frustrations I felt.

It was key that I could embrace my emotions in the first place, and not be guilty for feeling them, for only by acknowledging my emotions could I then decipher my thoughts behind them and find ways to cope with the emotions.

  • “I can’t see the man but I believe you can see him”:

I had illusions of a man dressed in a black cape and hat spying on me. I also saw ghost children running around on top of cars. I was convinced I spoke to Angel Gabriel as he visited me in the bathtub and I kept waiting for Elijah’s fire chariots, staring out the window for ages. No one else could see them. The temptation for anyone not suffering from a mental health problem was to discount them and tell me they were not there. Whether they are there or not was not the point. Trying to get me to question my visions made me feel worse about myself. Plus, who was to judge and say for sure spirits do or do not exist?

Whereas, if you affirmed my belief, even though you might not be able to see the same things as I did, it could help me trust you, and that you would not ridicule me. It would help me talk about what was going through my head. Only through opening up could I get better.

  • “Can I do anything for you? Do you want some water? Honey lemon? Soup? Chicken wings?”

Usually my response was “No.” Nevertheless it made me cared for, and on the rare occasions it awoken my appetite and I would munch on something. It meant a lot if you put it in context that I had lost all interest in food and about 20kgs in weight over the period. I did not have enough nutrition in the body and hence no vigor to do anything. Getting me to eat was an achievement, which steered me towards getting stronger.

  • “Shall we take Floppie to play?”

This might be particular to me. I had a Gund Snuffles bear which became my companion and my solace. He would always smile the dumb smile at me. To lure me outside for a walk, for at times I would stay indoors for 10 days straight, Timmie used something that was dear to me to attract me to be active. He suggested taking Floppie to the park, or to take pictures in the snow. This ignited some interest in me, and I was motivated to throw some old clothes on and go outdoors. Going out then added to the chain effect, and combined with the little things above, encouraged me to open up and seek help.

In the same way, maybe you could invite your friend for a game of basketball, chess, badminton, hike, movie, or whatever their hobbies were. You might need to keep inviting them for depression makes one lethargic and unmotivated, and most people lose interest in activities with which they were engrossed previously.
Bringing Floppie out to play and taking photos eventually developed into my Bearapy project – and a whole collection of Snuffles. It stimulated my creativity and pushed me to explore my creative potential.

  • When I did not admit I was stressed / was depressed, and refused to go to see a psychologist:

My denial period was umm, ultra long. Even when I saw a psychologist who told me “you are severely depressed and need to put you on anti-depressants” I refused to see I had a problem. Without admitting there was a problem, then of course I did not seek to resolve it. My husband (then boyfriend) had an advantage in that he lived with me, and he physically dragged me out the door, into a taxi, and escorted me to the shrink’s office and made sure I stayed there. He also forced the medication down my throat by administering them every day.

However, this becomes difficult if you do not have that authority over the person suffering. In some cases, the authority and forcefulness could backfire and make the patient retreat even further into his or her shell. In those cases, I suggest leaving the option to him/her. You could provide them with the resources on where to seek help, but the decision lies with them.

In the event you think they are going to harm themselves, my suggestion is to reach out to the local counselors or suicide prevention centers closest to you. Most of them have hotlines to call and they could give more concrete advice depending on the situation and the behaviour you observe of your friend. My husband called a local hotline without me knowing in the prelude to my downward spiral when he suspected suicidal tendencies, and the experts told him what signs to look for and what to do – which was to accompany me at all times possible back then.

  • Say Nothing:

Most of the time, not saying anything was the best thing for me. I just needed a brain dump. I just needed someone to listen without judging or recommending solutions. I just needed a hug.

  • A hug:

Just a cuddle, a bear hug, and sit next to me. It was soothing and calmed me down.

I hope the above sparks some inspiration on what one could do and say to help a depressed loved one. Part of it is intuitive of what you think you could do, and also depends on the personality of your family member or friend.

Would love to hear your feedback on what works, and what does not – so we can also share best practice and continue to help each other!

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28 Responses

  1. Vivien says:

    Reading this article made a currently depressed me feel much better. xoxo

  2. i have come across you via black dog. I have never been depressed but I help those who are depressed. The fact that I have no direct experience does not disqualify me – in fact it helps I think. I am a Human Givens trained therapist and we know what a depression is and what do to help. It is all to do with dreaming too much. It normally is not that difficult to clear a depression. Rather than rabbit on anymore maybe you could look at my blog and if it makes sense to you then please let others know.

    My blog is written is some rage and frustration because there is so much ignorance around and the so called experts are the worst. And there is great resistance from so many to the idea that depression is easy to understand and to overcome.

    And if you do look at the posts already on my blog you will see that a lot ar about saying clearly what a depressed person does need to hear.

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Andrew

      Thanks for doing what you believe is the right way to help others out of depression. it is true is it a state of mind that is difficult to understand for those who have not gone through it. I think we all have different root causes of our depression and the important thing is to find that out, and find the ways that work for us to recover

      Noch Noch

      • Noch Noch – you are not seriously engaging in what I am saying. Of course depressed people all have different histories, worry about different things in different ways, have different lives, have different thinking styles, will be different ages and have more or less powerful past emotional pattern matching to handle. But virtually all will be worrying uselessly, dreaming too much, feeling worse in the morning and finding themselves trapped in their brain in a state of terrifying nervous exhustion

        I am saying this because I know I am right – not because I am depressed but because I treat depressed people every week of the year and help most of them quickly.

        You do not help depressed people by propagating the false idea they have a unique root cause – in fact that entraps them further. Can you see that?

        I am earnestly suggesting that given your reputation among depression sufferers, that you take seriously what I am saying, read what Human Givens say about depression and so be in a position to give people hope – that they are not going mad, their problem is not just theirs and that they can get out of it.

        • nochnoch says:

          Hi Andrew

          Thanks for following up. I have never said I don’t think people cannot get out of depression. Indeed my blog is here to give them hope and let those who struggle with depression know they are not alone. Yet, I hold on to idea that depression can be caused by different factors. Some have seasonal depression, others have manic depression, some people have biological deficiencies which lead to depression, and yet others were caused by stress. And like every other reality people struggle with, environmental factors and personal dispositions play a part in affecting the outcome. Therefore, to find the right treatment and the treatment most comfortable for each person, one must know what are the root causes and tackle those – there is no point for someone who lacks biologically the hormones to just go to psychotherapy – perhaps those people must take medication or follow a certain diet; likewise, those who do not have a biological deficiency could well do better with cognitive behaviour therapy, or any other kind of therapy they so choose. There are a myriad ways out there in the world, we need find the way that is suitable for us – what is good for one person might not be the best choice for others. And with that, I advocate knowing oneself and what’s good for us. I have never advocated any particular kind of treatment, and nor will I, because I think people have the right to choose. All I can do is to talk about my experience and the rest will be judged by others. Therefore, I appreciate your comments and your perspective, adn I hope my readers who see your comment might reap some inspiration if that is what they need

          Take care

          • Hi Noch Noch
            I suppose my sample of depressed people is biased to those where psychological help is needed. But even so I would be amazed if for most, over dreaming and rumination were not part of it. Like extreme cold in the Antarctic. When you go back to your early days of depression, were you not the most exhausted and hopeless first thing in the morning?

            Anyway, I do appreciate your serious response to my posting and you are I know helping a lot of people besides providing an wonderfully authentic expression of your direct experience.

            Do though check out the official Human Givens sites. They are on my blog. I am simply a HG therapist, not directly connected to the HG organisation, though of course accredited by them. They are much more interesting and connected up than you might think. My blog does also need publicity – I publish now weekly and am up and running.
            Feel free to sign up to receive notifications. And on Wednesday I am posting my take on the organising idea of the Human Givens.
            my best wishes

    • gail says:

      I am a retired psychiatric social worker who has lived with ptsd (severe anxiety and depression) since the age of 8. This is the exact type of b.s. self-help guru that I tell people to stay away from. What kind of mental health professional trolls the internet looking for depressed people to treat. I looked at his website and see nothing that indicates he is trained or competent to deal with serious depression or potentially suicidal people. You would be better off going for long walks and punching your pillow, and it would be way cheaper.

      But speaking of cheap and effective, here is an amazing treatment for depression (and pain I am told). And in no way can I profit from this. I first saw it on The Doctors and Dr. Oz about 2 years ago, and it really works. I have been crying for 3 months and just realized that was when my herbalist switched her hours, and I haven’t had it for the last few months. It is a spice, curcumin, or turmeric. Make sure it is at least 95% curcumin. That’s it. Any brand. In fact my herbalist compresses it into tablets, so there isn’t even a capsule. It is more effective than any prescription antidepressant I have ever tried and hated — and there are absolutely no side effects. I tried just sprinkling turmeric on everything I eat the last few months, but it takes so much that I am sick of the taste.

      Give it a try, and stay away from self-help gurus.

      NochNoch, thank you for your beautiful posts and for reminding us we are not alone or without hope. And thank you for being more tolerant of mean people and people trying to profit from our problems than I am. And your little girl is beautiful.

  3. jim says:

    I love this post. I have said some of these exact things to my friends, to let them know how they could help if they chose to, but have yet to hear any of these suggestion proactively from them. I don’t blame my friends, I know it is difficult to deal with depression and other can become very uncomfortable. Nonetheless it would be nice to hear these words from someone. It would also go a long way towards alleviating the feelings of isolation, I think.
    Thank you for this post. Glad you are back.

  4. Rob-bear says:

    Excellent suggestions. The kind of plans which helped me through my depression.

  5. jim says:

    Hey Noch
    Things are ok. Reading blogs such as yours always helps me keep perspective. Thanks again

  6. […] Until it broke me. […]

  7. […] and expert advice on treating depression and helping those around you with depression, shared a few things you could say or do when a loved one is depressed, and also explained why there is no set formula to recover from […]

  8. K Man says:

    hi NN,
    i had depression for so long before….. my friend pushed me to join a course held by a psychologist in the last decade. however, after he pointed out the reasons cause my depression, no more follow up unless i pay for another course which is so expensive. i had been trying so long like 10 years to overcome it by myself.

    i did not have any support from family and friends. they just kept saying be positive and i was in the worse situation than you….

    recently, i found my boyfriend is in serious depression. since i did not have friend’s support, i dont know what i should say to him. i tried to say something like the psychologist, now trainer, talked to me. such as “see? u can be fine!” “u r born-to-be no. 8 (enneagram) but u just think that u r no. 4” “u build up a ice wall to block all the people, u have to break it to trust everyone” ….. things like that…. so i used some wrong approaches to my boyfriend. it made him even worse. refused, high tempered, locked himself up, kept saying no one understands him and he wants to leave this world… etc.

    after reading your post, i am using different approaches. talk irrelative topics to him, watch movies at home, no matter what he says (about his feeling and what he thinks) i say i feel him… i am here for him, when he refuses seeing psychiatrist, i said i respect him and understand that he is the one who understans what he wants more than i do……. etc. every word i said to him is extra gentle…. and, of course, when he gets frustrated again, i said i am with him….

    obviously, all can calm him…. and, he is trying his ways to get himself out from the darkness a bit by a bit….

    and your story let me know i am not alone too….

    good sharing NN! i love u!!


    • nochnoch says:

      Hi K Man

      WOW! Thanks for taking care of your bf and also yourself, and for sharing a powerful story. My husband also had a hard time taking care of me so I know how difficult it must be for you, all the patience and also helping yourself remain positive and not being dragged down in mood. I am glad I can be of some inspiration.

      Keep sharing and I hope others take encouragement from you too!


      • K Man says:

        Hi NN,

        Feel great that you are fine now! You must have experienced that love is great!

        I would like to share about the Psychiatrist experience. I found a lot of people shared on the online forums that anti-depressant is not working. I am not sure but I have brought my boyfriend to one of the psychiatrists in Hong Kong. I would like to take this chance to share with people who are planning to visit.

        I was in the consultation as well when the psychiatrist talked to my boyfriend. He just analyzes with one point, my bf said he thought of going, then the psy raised his tone like a judge or lawyer in the court. He just kept pushing my bf to take anti-depressant. My bf said he doesn’t want to have any side-effect and he would like to use some natural ways… such as exercises, eat well, or someones to talk to. At that time we indicated that we would like to leave, then the psy took few pieces of paper to write down some rubbish points that he said already…. at the end, charged us for 2 sessions consultation fees.

        From my point of view, it is because the psy sensed that he cannot earn from the medication, therefore he wasted some time on the writing to charge us more.

        I would like to take this chance to let people who need profession’s help that, please ask advices or comments from friends or some counselling organizations or maybe church…. don’t trust the comments of some doctor yellow pages or websites. The comments there probably left by the nurses or doctor himself/herself.

        Take care everyone!
        ~ Love might be the Best Medicine in the World ~


        • K Man says:

          i meant, the psychiatrist just determined that my bf has depressive disorder only with the sentence of “thought of going”…
          so i hope everyone who needs help be careful….

        • nochnoch says:

          Hi K

          Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope my readers can learn from it too

          Psychiatrist predominantly treat with medicine – that’s their training and trade. I prefer to see a clinical psychologist. PSychologists do not administer medicine. In my case, my psychologist thought I should also take medicine in addition to the therapy with him, so I saw the GP in the clinic who gave me the medicine prescription.

          But yes I agree, if you do not feel comfortable with the doctor or any medical practitioner, can leave any time. You could try to “complain” against him – HK has a good complaints system if you think he over charged? 🙂 I miss HK for that sometimes, no point complaining in Beijing.

          Even for psychologist I found a few before I settled with this one I’m seeing. A few of them before also seemed very judgmental and I didn’t like that


  9. Adam says:

    “Instead of asking “How are you?”, to which the response would inevitably be “Sh!t” ”

    That is so true and funny : ) I feel like i’m obligated to say something positive bc a negative response would seem like i’m soliciting a pity response like awwww…. so usually my response is ‘same…’ ‘not horrible’ ‘a little low today’ = in danger

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Adam

      Hahah – yes I used to sometimes play down my response in case I offend anyone, but really, i just felt like “Shit” haha. But now it’s better. It’s not so “sh!t!” anymore and also if that’s how I feel, then no need to hid eit


  10. […] colours and cleaning up our appearance could help dissipate a depressive episode. I know it is against the very nature of a depressed person to do so, but my plea: […]

  11. Tathata says:

    Here’s another one I value:

    Often when I’m in a down episode, I don’t want to go anywhere. People invite me and I politely decline, and then I feel so lonely.

    With someone dear to you, who is depressed (or anyone really), offer to come to them. If they decline to go on an outing, say “hey, would you like it if I stopped by your place for a hug instead?”

    That’s what I wish for so badly.

  12. NN says:

    Thanks for writing this Noch Nock

    Stumbled upon your blog after reading your post about what not to say to someone who has depression and I’m just reading everything else away 🙂
    Thank you for inspiring so many of us out there who are going through a shitty time as well.
    I too suffer from depression for as long as I can remember (since 15, diagnosed at 21) and its been an eye-opening experience. Good and bad.
    I hope you will recover from this nasty “black cloud” as i like to call it and keep on writing the way you do.

    Ka iau

    • nochnoch says:

      Hi Ka iau

      Thanks for your message. I am glad my writing gives you some inspiration. Indeed this “black cloud” teaches us lessons in life and I hope we find that to channel into positive changes for ourselves. I will keep writing. Thanks for reading!

      Noch Noch

about Noch Noch

Enoch Li, (pen name: Noch Noch) was born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. She loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2010 due to her illnesses and after spending time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress, she has transitioned into a Social Entrepreneur and founded BEARAPY to help corporates make workplaces mentally healthy, and support executives to become more resilient.