1. Can I relieve your stress in any way?
One thing all writing manuals say is “SHOW, don’t TELL”. Words aren’t all that helpful to a person struggling with depression. So what I found most comforting when I couldn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps is when a friend came over and fixed me lunch, or when someone offered to tidy up my place. I realize that sounds a tad pampered and self-indulgent.
2. Is there something I can do for you?
Again, like number one, this is a SHOW, not TELL moment, and those are very effective at communicating compassion. The chances are that the depressed person will just shake her head as she cries, but I can assure you that she will register your offer in that place instead her heart that says, “This person cares about me.”
3. Can I drive you somewhere?
Here’s something that most people don’t know about folks battling depression: they are really bad drivers. REALLY bad. Bad driving is an easy way to diagnose a mood disorder. So, this suggestion is not only to help out your depressed friends who maybe do need some fish oil or tissue paper from the drug store, but also all the other people on the road.
4. Where are you getting your support?
Notice the difference between saying, “Are you going to any support group meetings?” which implies, “If you aren’t, you are one lazy who deserves to be depressed.” And “Where are you getting your support?” which says, “You need some support. Let’s figure out a way to get it.”
5. You won’t always feel this way.
That was the perfect sentence that I could hear 50 times a day when I wanted out of this world. Those words don’t judge, impose, or manipulate. What they do is convey hope, and HOPE is what keeps a person alive, or at least motivated to get to the next day to see if the light at the end of the tunnel is really a place of rebirth or a friggin’ freight train.
6. What time of day is hardest for you?
This one is brilliant. Call twice a day, once in the morning–because depression is usually most acute upon waking (“Crap, I’m still alive.”)–and at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon when blood sugar dips and anxiety can take over. Mind you, you don’t have to say a whole lot, but knowing that they could count on you during those two times is a little bit like holding someone’s hand through a dangerous intersection.
7. I’m here for you.
It’s simple. It’s sweet. And it communicates everything you need to say: I care, I get it, I don’t really understand it, but I love you, and I support you.
That’s the most uncomfortable one because we always want to fill in the silence with something, even if it’s weather talk. But saying nothing … and merely listening … is sometimes the very best response, and the most appropriate. I love this passage from Rachel Naomi Remen’s bestselling book Kitchen Table Wisdom:
“I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention. And especially if it’s given from the heart. When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them. Just take them in. Listen to what they’re saying. Care about it. Most times caring about it is even more important than understanding it.”