When a family member or friend is dealing with depression or even just having a bad day, it’s important to know what to say—and that you can make a difference. Here are three simple things that can help make a difficult conversation easier.
1. Shut Up and Listen
When I did crisis line training, this was pretty much the Golden Rule (the “shut up” part included). If someone is trying to talk to you about something, reassure them that you are there to listen. Remember, listening means making a genuine effort to hear someone. Even if you might be shocked by what a person is telling you, it’s important not to interrupt them. Let them talk and say what they want to say.
2. Don’t Be a “Fixer”
This can be particularly challenging. There may be times when someone tells you that they’re going through something terrible. In that case, it’s totally obvious that, being the awesome and caring person that you are, you’d want to stop and solve, whatever is happening. This desire sometimes leads us to rush and attempt to “fix” a situation, when really the person we’re listening to may want someone to simply listen.
As a listener, you can help sort through difficult emotions by identifying and empathizing with the other person’s feelings. Hopefully, the person you’re talking to will eventually be ready to seek out possible solutions (but only when they’re ready to).
3. Just Be There
This sounds corny, but it is definitely the most important thing you can do. The fact that you’re willing to be there and listen to someone is compassionate in the first place. Basically, just continue to be the awesome, caring and supportive person that you are by just being there for someone. Being that “shoulder to cry on” or “a hand to hold” can sometimes be the best kind of support.
No one is a perfect listener, and that is something that I’ve realized in my own relationships. For instance, while I may deal with issues not experienced by my boyfriend, the fact that he at least tries to empathize with my feelings is caring. That’s what matters most.