Ways to "be there" for someone with anxiety or depression

UCLA Health article
Erik Soderstrom/Flickr

When a family member or friend is feeling sad or anxious, it can be awkward when you don’t know what to say. You want to help -- and you definitely don’t want to make matters worse – but how?

Lekeisha Sumner and Emanuel Maidenberg, both psychologists and clinical professors of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, have recommendations about how to help someone who’s in distress.

1. It’s not always what you say, but rather, how you show up. Offering a consistent, calm, and reassuring presence communicates that a person is loved and supported and has someone to provide perspective and problem-solve.

2. Remind your friend or family member of their strengths. Do you recall a time that they overcame a tough situation? What qualities did they utilize in that circumstance? Often people feel disconnected from the most positive aspects of themselves when suffering from depression and anxiety.

3. Be prepared to have your suggestions rebuffed. Be patient and continue to show up. Encourage them to take care of themselves, such as by exercising and eating healthy.

4. Here are some helpful phrases: “I can see how what happened makes you feel upset,” “I wish I could do something to help you feel better” and “Can I tell you what helps me when I feel stressed and upset?”

5. Here are some phrases to avoid: “You have so much to be grateful for. How can you be sad?” “Try to get over it,” and “I know how you feel.”

Keep in mind that depression and anxiety, although common, can be debilitating and may worsen over time. An assessment for formal diagnosis and treatment from a mental health professional may be necessary for some people, Maidenberg and Sumner say. Depression and anxiety are usually treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both.