The most important thing is to be sympathetic. “Do not say things like ‘snap out of it’ or ‘get a grip’ or suggest in any way a sense of surprise or disappointment that this person is depressed,” says Alison Ross, a psychologist and adjunct associate professor at City College of New York. “Listen with patience and acceptance. Let the person talk about how they’re feeling no matter how sad or negative or hopeless their comments are. Allow the person to express themselves and the thoughts and feelings they’re wrestling with as openly as they can. Do not argue their points or try to convince them to see things in a more positive light, because someone wrestling with depression does not have the ability to do so.”
It can also help to point out that depression is not a personal flaw or weakness of character; it is a medical condition that responds to treatment, just like most other medical problems. “Point out that for most people who suffer with depression, there is a biological component that contributes to its severity,” Ross says. “That means there is a family inheritance equal to other kinds of medical conditions that can run in families like breast cancer, for example.” She says that people who have a biological predisposition to depression are more prone to experiencing it when life events occur that involve significant loss or trauma, such as the death of a loved one, divorce or losing a job. “Pointing this out may help normalize their depression for them, to see it as a human response to painful, difficult situations and that the mind and body go hand-in-hand, they are two sides of the same coin,” she says.
For the friend or loved one, the best thing to offer is your understanding and a sense of hope, Ross says. Let them know that, “as painful and real and immutable as their hopelessness and sadness feels in the present, they will start to feel better and see things differently once they seek help and undergo treatment; that you are hopeful for them – even if at present they are not hopeful for themselves – and that in time the depression will lift and they will feel better again.”