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Health and Wellbeing

What do I say when someone is feeling down?

By bzgeorge 31 Oct 2019

Mental illness is extremely common in young adults and especially, in first-year university students.

While you are living in student halls, make sure to keep an eye on those around you. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to say when your friend is feeling low. So, to make it a bit clearer, we have made a list of all the do's and don'ts for comforting an upset individual. 

*Make sure to watch out for any concerning behaviours and make yourself aware of the helplines available: Your university also has support services available for those struggling with mental illness, including student counselling.*

Click here to find out more. 

How do I know when someone is feeling down?

There is a difference between sadness and clinical depression. When someone is medically depressed, they will have a low mood, lack of energy and tendency to irritability. Bear in mind that their mood is often out of their control. They may not be capable of being a good friend or flatmate right now.  

Sometimes depressed individuals will use drugs or alcohol to feel better. Try not to encourage this behaviour when you are spending time together. Instead of socialising at the pub, suggest making dinner or going to the cinema together. Remember to look after yourself as well though. Protect your own mental wellbeing by continuing your normal routine and making time for self-care. 

What do I say to comfort them?

Remember to always speak from a place of compassion and acceptance. You are not a doctor, so don't feel like you need to diagnose or offer professional therapy. Many people with depression feel alone. The best thing you can do is to reiterate that they are not alone and you are here for them...

  • "Have you talked to a doctor?" - It is important that they seek medical help. You can only help them to a certain extent. A doctor can refer them to a therapist and see if they are suffering from any chemical imbalances or an underlying illness.
  • "It's okay not to be okay." - It can very difficult to accept that you are depressed. However, you can help your friend by reassuring them that many people suffer from mental illness and it is okay. Make sure to reiterate that if many people have this condition then it is treatable, normal and they will get through it. 
  • "Is there anything I can do to help?" - Depression is mentally and physically exhausting. While some people may be reluctant to accept a helping hand, make it clear that you want to help. Ask specific questions like "Do you need any food whilst I'm out?", "Would you like to hang out tonight?" or "Can I help with your laundry?".
  • "Do you want to talk about it?" - Sometimes asking them if they want to offload and explain their feelings to you is a great way of making them feel less alone. This will also help you to better understand what they are going through.
  • "I care and I'm here for you." - Just by showing that you are there for them, through a hug or helping them out with household work, can make a huge difference. It's good for them to know they can rely on you.
  • "I don't understand, but I really want to." - Each case of mental illness is different. Explain that you don't know exactly what they are feeling but would like to. You care about them and want to know what is going on. 

What NOT to say 

Knowing what NOT to say is just as important as understanding what WILL help the individual. Remember to be sensitive, friendly and understanding. Do not say:

  • "Cheer up!"
  • "Get over it."
  • "It's not that bad."
  • "Who even cares?"
  • "It's your own fault."
  • "I understand" - when you don't. 

Most importantly, look after your own mental wellbeing as well. It can be difficult to care for someone who is feeling down, so make sure you take care of yourself as well. As much as you want to help them, remember they are not just your responsibility. There will come a point when other friends, family and medical professionals need to step in. 

24/7 Helplines to be aware of:

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