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How to Start a Conversation About Depression
Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face. Brush off the clouds and cheer up, put on a happy face. These words have been sung from the time-honored stages of Broadway to the fictional streets of Springfield, home of The Simpsons. And if you or a friend is simply having a bad day, “Put on a Happy Face” might actually do the trick. For others, however, their pain goes much deeper.
The lyrics to that classic song can have a greater purpose, raising awareness about how to communicate with an individual experiencing depression. A well-intentioned “cheer up” is the wrong entreaty to a person you may perceive is feeling down but who, in reality, is depressed. There are more than 300 million people worldwide with depression,1 and it’s very possible one might be a friend, co-worker, or relative who comes to you for comfort and understanding.
While significant progress has been made in raising awareness and dispelling stereotypes about depression, many affected by the illness are reluctant to seek help or talk about how they’re feeling. Since isolation and withdrawal are often symptoms, it’s crucial to learn sensitive and effective techniques for communicating with those who may be depressed. If you are researching psychology degrees and careers in psychology, and/or are interested in learning how to best communicate with people experiencing difficulties, here are four important touchpoints for a conversation about depression from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).2
1. Show You Care
Take time to think about approaches that will work best for your loved one. Choose words that are natural and comfortable given your relationship. HHS offers this suggestion: “Tell me how you are feeling. I’m here to support and listen to you.” Also: “I’m worried about you. I think you may need to talk to a doctor about depression.”
2. Offer Hope
Many people with depression struggle under a mantle of hopelessness. Illuminating a path of hope in a supportive way is important. Avoid saying anything falsely cheerful. One approach HHS recommends: “Depression is an illness that can be treated. Getting help is the best thing you can do.” Depending on the severity of the depressive episode, individuals may respond to psychotherapy, medication, and/or other treatments recommended by medical professionals. Try not to share anecdotal information about what worked for someone else you know. Every individual, and case, is different.
3. Offer to Help
Depression can be a debilitating medical condition, and a person experiencing it may feel constantly tired and overwhelmed by what used to seem like simple daily tasks. Offer to help but be specific. Instead of asking “What can I do to help?” follow this HHS guidance: “Let me help you figure out what’s going on. You can start by making an appointment with your doctor—or I can help you find someone else to talk to, like a psychologist (therapist) or social worker.”
4. Ask Life-Saving Questions
Thoughts of death or suicide can be symptoms of depression. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline suggests the following potentially life-saving overture: “Asking the question, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ communicates that you’re open to speaking about suicide in a non-judgmental and supportive way. Asking in this direct, unbiased manner can open the door for effective dialogue about their emotional pain and can allow everyone involved to see what next steps need to be taken. Other questions you can ask include, ‘How do you hurt?’ and ‘How can I help?’ Do not ever promise to keep their thoughts of suicide a secret.”3 If you or anyone you know may be considering suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The International Association for Suicide Prevention maintains a global catalog of crisis centers.
When earning a degree in psychology from an accredited online university, you may choose courses in which you’ll study psychological disorders like depression, learn how to talk about sensitive issues, and explore causes and treatment options. BS in Psychology career options may include behavioral management aide, forensic treatment specialist, youth worker, and assistant case manager. Through 2026, jobs for social and human service assistants are projected to grow 15%, a faster-than-average pace compared to other professions.4
And if a career as a psychology professional is your passion, a bachelor’s in psychology may inspire you to earn an MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling so that you can help people professionally. The Accelerate into Master's (AIM) Program allows you to complete your master’s degree with up to 50% fewer credits, since you begin the coursework while earning your bachelor’s degree. Maximize your talents. Launch or advance your career with an online psychology degree program today and start making a difference in your community.
Walden University is an accredited institution offering BS in Psychology and MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling degree programs to fit your professional path. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.
Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.
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