How To Talk To Someone With Depression: Support Through Listening

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Kristen Hardin

If you know someone dealing with depression, it’s natural to want to help. It’s also natural to not know what to do.

Listening is a great place to start, but what do you do next?

The best thing to do might be to keep listening.

How To Talk To Someone With Depression

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Talking to someone with depression can be a delicate process. You want to help, yet you are afraid of saying the wrong thing or not knowing what to say at all.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that they feel supported.

Listen To Understand

These days, people have a tendency to “listen to respond.” You know what this means: while you listen to someone else, you’re already thinking about what you’re going to say back.

This does some things that make communication difficult and ineffective – particularly when you’re trying to help someone dealing with depression.

The first is that it actually limits your understanding of the other person. We tend to think that we’re pretty good at multitasking, but the human brain is actually really negative at it. When you’re listening to respond, you’re both listening and planning your response – meaning that your brain is directing energy that could be spent focusing on the other person toward planning your response.

That brings us to the other bad thing that listening to respond does: it makes the conversation about you when it should be about the other person. Emotionally speaking, the focus should be on the person that you’re talking to. Practically, if your brain is focusing on you and your response, you’re less likely to give a response that is going to be helpful and supportive to the other person.

Promote Understanding

If you don’t know how to wrap your head around listening to understand, there’s a practical model that you can use called “reflective listening.”

With reflective listening, you listen to what the person is saying and then summarize to them your understanding of what they said. This does a number of important things.

Because you respond with what they just told you, you’re forcing your mind to fully process what the other person is saying. This actually helps you to better understand what the other person is saying. It also helps you to make sure that you understand what they meant by asking for confirmation.

Effectively practicing reflective listening helps the other person in some ways. For one, as mentioned, they know that you understand what they meant and can clarify if something got lost.

Second, knowing that you are listening to understand them helps the individual feel like they are being listened to and heard. People dealing with depression often experience real or perceived isolation, and feel listened to and understood can help to improve their mood.

Further, practicing reflective listening can help the other person to understand themselves. Have you ever said something and thought ‘wow, that made a lot more sense in my head?’ When you practice reflective listening, it can serve as a soundboard for the other person to help them keep their own thoughts and feelings in perspective.

Finally, reflective listening puts the other person in the pilot seat of the conversation. This can help them to get through what they want to get through – even if they didn’t know what that was when they started talking to you.

What Are You Listening For?

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So, we understand that one of the best ways to support people with depression is to listen to them. We’ve also talked about some things that can help you to be a good listener.

But what are you listening to?

Whatever They Have To Say!

Sometimes people with depression want to talk about how they feel, and they want to be supported. But, sometimes, they want to talk about other things, and they don’t need to be treated as special cases.

You are this person’s a friend/sister/brother/parent/neighbor and not their therapist, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “fix” them.

Don’t get so tangled up in reflective listening that you forget that you’re talking to a person that is more than just their depression. You’re not talking to depression; you’re talking to a person that experiences depression. If you keep reminding them of their depression, you’re not helping – it might even make them feel frustrated.

What To Say

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Listening is its own form of support. However, it’s not a conversation if you only listen or only practice reflective listening. So, when it is your turn to talk, what do you say?

Answer Their Questions

You can’t practice reflective listening in response to a question. It just doesn’t work.

This is one of those areas where the person that you’re talking to having depression shouldn’t change your entire mode of communication. Just tell the truth.

If it’s a sensitive question, you may want to be careful about how you phrase your response. However, don’t lie.

For one, it may be something that they need to hear. It’s not your job to second guess and sensor information for them.

Second, if you’re lying to them, they may find out. The whole point of listening is to support the individual, and they won’t feel supported if they find out that you aren’t telling them the truth.

So, what do you do if the truth is hard? Talk it through. They aren’t a stranger to difficult situations, and working through those situations with someone else can be helpful – even if it is difficult.

Offer Advice

Advice is a tricky topic. It’s on the list of things that many of us are all too eager to offer. Don’t give advice when none was asked for. But if they do ask for advice, don’t be afraid to lend some suggestions.

Similar rules are in place when it comes to personal experience. If you know that someone is going through a hard time, don’t launch into all of the hard times that you have been through. You may think that this is supportive, but it really just makes the conversation about you. On the other hand, if they ask if you have any similar experience and you do don’t refuse to offer your perspective.

Recommend That They Talk To An Expert

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If your friend or loved one with depression is regularly relying on you for support with their condition, this can put you in a sensitive place.

For one thing, active listening frequently can be draining. Being supportive to someone else, particularly someone with depression, can take an emotional toll on you.

Further, and perhaps more importantly, you’re not an expert. It’s great that you put in the time to track down and read articles like this one. However, it’s no substitute for being an expert in mental and emotional health.

Suggesting that your friend or loved one meet with an emotional and mental health expert doesn’t just take a load off of your shoulders, it also helps to ensure that they are actually getting the support that they need.

If your friend or loved one with depression regularly relies on you and people like you for support with their condition because they can’t access or afford mental health experts, make sure that they know about BetterHelp.

How BetterHelp Can Help

You know about or have found the BetterHelp blog. However, our main service is offering a platform for convenient and affordable online counseling. This platform pairs licensed and professional mental health experts with people in need of support via secure video sessions, phone and chat sessions, and secure messaging.

Individuals can schedule weekly video or voice calls with their therapist or counselor. With thousands of counselors available, a flexible platform, and affordable pricing with financial aid packages available, BetterHelp is a viable alternative to many that cannot otherwise access counseling or therapy in their area.

Moving Forward

It’s great that you are looking to support your friend or loved one with depression through listening. Remember that your job is to be a friend or loved one – not to be a counselor or therapist. Keeping this in mind can ensure that you get to keep your relationship with your friend or loved one while ensuring that they get the help that they need from a reliable source.


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