Mental health is a complex and, unfortunately, often misunderstood subject. Depression is a major part of mental illness, and it’s never easy knowing what to say to someone who is depressed. It’s even more difficult when that person is your mom or dad.
Depression is defined as a mood disorder that causes a persistent sadness and loss of interest in activities that one used to enjoy. The disorder can affect how a person feels, thinks, and behaves. It might also lead to a variety of emotional and even physical problems.
What does depression look like in older adults? The symptoms of depression in older adults aren’t always easy to spot, and may be mistaken as just a normal part of getting older. Some symptoms might include tiredness, irritability, trouble sleeping, and an inability to complete the small tasks of daily life, like eating or bathing.
Research has shown that elderly adults may be more likely to become depressed if there are certain risk factors involved like genetic predisposition or other medical conditions, such as heart disease or cancer.
It’s true that depression is common among older adults, but it’s not a normal part of aging. In fact, studies show that life satisfaction among Canadian seniors is actually higher than that of younger people.
Too many caregivers fret over the right or wrong things to say to their depressed family member. While there isn’t a single best approach, you might want to consider simply being direct and honest.
So, what should you say if you think your mom or dad is depressed?
Generally speaking, there are some helpful ideas on what to say to someone who is depressed. There are also a few things that aren’t helpful and might be wise to avoid. Let’s take a closer look at these scenarios so that you can be better equipped if you think your mom or dad is depressed and how you might gently approach the idea of getting them properly assessed for depression.
What to say to someone who is depressed
Not everyone with depression will want to talk about it. And it’s important to realize that you can’t force your mom or dad to open up about their feelings if they don’t want to. However, there are a few things you can say that will, at the very least, help to express how much you love them and care about their well-being.
It’s one of the simplest things you can say, but often one of the most effective. Someone with depression might feel that they don’t matter to anyone in the world. The fact that you’re there telling them otherwise might make a difference. Just letting Mom or Dad know that you care about what they’re going through may be the first step to a wider discussion.
Keep in mind that not everything you say is guaranteed to make an impact. No matter how much you want to help, you can’t control someone else’s feelings. This can be very frustrating, but you can still let your parent know how much you care.
“I’m here to help. What can I do?”
Depression can make even the most mundane tasks harder. Even something as simple as getting out of bed might be daunting when your mom or dad is depressed. Being physically present to actively help might remind them that they are not alone.
More than just telling your parent that you’re there for them, ask what you can do specifically to help them. You might even suggest doing a few simple tasks, like helping with yard work or getting their groceries. These basic activities can prove nearly impossible for someone suffering from depression.
“Do you want to talk?”
Remember: Mom or Dad might not want to talk about their depressed mood, but just having the option can be helpful. That’s why reminding your parent that you’re there to talk with them if they want to, or gently suggesting that they talk with a health care professional, is a good idea.
“Does the doctor know how you’re feeling?”
Depression is a very real illness. This means it’s often treatable and manageable. Encourage your mom or dad to talk with their doctor if they’re feeling depressed, because there are options for resolving the issue. Be honest with your parent: Tell them that you’re concerned about their well-being and that you think a health care professional’s opinion might be helpful.
“This is one of the most difficult things you can experience. But know that you’re not alone.”
The isolation that a depressed person feels is one of the hardest things to cope with. When you acknowledge their pain and remind Mom or Dad that they’re not alone, you’re letting them know that they’re being seen and heard. This isn’t easy and there are no quick solutions. But you can let them know that you are truly there for them. Knowing this might help your parent remember their own value and worth.
“It’s OK that you feel this way. There is hope.”
There is often a sense of shame or embarrassment on the part of the depressed person. Many people with depression sometimes feel that there is something wrong with them, or that they have no “real” reason to feel depressed. On the other hand, there are those who may feel there are good reasons to be depressed.
Let Mom or Dad know that it’s OK for them to feel the way that they’re feeling, and that it’s not their fault. Depression is a legitimate health condition that affects millions of people, and countless individuals have learned to manage mental illness with the help of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes — your mom or dad can, too. Make sure that they know help is available and it’s nothing to be ashamed about.
What not to say to someone who is depressed
Just as there are a few things that might be helpful for a depressed person to hear, there are some things that will feel more like a judgement or a dismissal. It’s a wise idea to avoid saying the following statements.
- “Everything will be fine, I promise. It’s just a hard time.” This is dismissing the problem and may only make Mom or Dad feel that you’re ignoring their feelings. Plus, promising that things will be fine is just an empty platitude.
- “I don’t know what you have to be sad about. Just cheer up!” People with depression cannot “just cheer up.” Telling Mom or Dad that you don’t understand why they’re depressed isn’t helpful, and it only contributes to the feelings of shame and confusion that can surround depression.
- “Snap out of it.” Again, people suffering from depression don’t have the luxury of simply “snapping out of it.” This kind of language is crude and dismissive.
- “There are people far worse off than you.” Comparing one person’s depression to the suffering of other people is, for one thing, a false equivalency. It’s also very unhelpful. Your parent will only feel judged that their suffering isn’t “worth it.”
When is it time to seek professional help?
It’s important to recognize that depression, and mental illness as a whole, is a serious medical condition that you are not likely to be fully equipped to deal with. Do not think that you have to solve the problem all by yourself or that it’s your duty to even do this.
On the contrary, your parent might need professional help from a doctor or counselor. Take the issue seriously, because there is always a risk of suicide when it comes to depression.
Pay attention to your parent’s behavior and mood. Are they withdrawing from activities and becoming more isolated from other family members or friends? Are they sleeping too much or too little? Are they misusing or abusing medications? Maybe they’ve started talking about having no reason to live, or expressing suicidal thoughts. If you’ve started noticing these warning signs, it’s time to seek help.
Make sure your parent has access to the Canada Suicide Prevention Service’s hotline number: 1.833.456.4566. Find local resources and support groups in the area where you live. And as always, encourage your parent to talk with their own doctor or a mental health professional if they’re experiencing symptoms of depression or having suicidal thoughts.
What to say if mom or dad is depressed
If you think that your parent is depressed or if they’ve admitted to struggling with difficult feelings, it’s important to make them aware that you’re there for them during these hard times and you’re willing to help.
Let them know that it’s alright for them to feel the way they feel, and that you’re there to talk if they want to. There is no easy answer about what to say to someone who is depressed. But you want to avoid saying things that dismiss their feelings or make them feel judged.
If your parent is experiencing suicidal thoughts, or outwardly expressing feelings of sadness or a desire to end their life, seek professional help right away.
Have you dealt with depression yourself, or know someone who has? Have you helped your mom or dad through a depressive episode? We want to hear more about your own personal experience.