The recent string of celebrity suicides has left many of us reeling.
Some are grieving the loss of an idol. Others are grappling with an undercurrent of sadness in the zeitgeist.
And many are fearing for the lives of a loved one who is currently battling depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 16.2 million adults (6.7% of the U.S.) have had at least one major depressive episode. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States and is especially prevalent for women and those aged 18-25.
Based on the odds, you likely know someone who is suffering, either publicly or privately. Yet very few of us know what to do if a loved one confides that she’s dealing with depression or thoughts of suicide.
How could you help? What should you think, say, do?
Where do you even begin?
Turns out, with four simple words.
I learned them from a Catholic priest who performed my dad’s final blessing before he died.
Afterward, the priest, sitting cross-legged on the floor, asked me how I was feeling. Once I responded, he leaned back on his arms, the way you do when you’re settling in for something. He calmly but intensely looked me in the eyes and said these four words:
“Tell me about it.”
…and waited for me to start.
With those four words, he opened up space to be honest, vulnerable, and heard.
He didn’t try to fix my feelings, to sugarcoat or gloss over with platitudes.
That experience was truly healing.
Sometimes, simply making that space is the best way to help a struggling friend.
It’s important to be confident in your request. “Tell me about it” is more powerful than “Do you want to talk about it?”
It’s like saying “I’ll bring the prosecco!” rather than “Let me know if there’s anything I can bring.”
Telling, rather than asking, is a subtle-but-powerful difference that shows your friend she’s not a burden, that you actually want to hear her story.
The beautiful thing about these four words is they don’t require you to do anything special. Simply show up as yourself, with love for your friend, and listen.
There’s no pressure for you to fix anything or offer advice. Seek to understand her reality and provide a safe space to pour into.
Ask open-ended, non-judgmental questions to learn about her experience.
The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand suggests using neutral statements like “I can see how that would be hard” to show support.
Of course, there are many next steps you should take when a friend confides that she is depressed. Help her find a therapist or medical doctor. In cases of suicidal thoughts, help her call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
But in the moment she confides she’s struggling, all you need to do is be there to listen and love her through the sadness. And that starts with four simple words.