Deciding when, where and how to talk

Sometimes it’s hard to know when to start talking about depression and what to say. The right time and place to talk are whenever and wherever you feel comfortable, and these are likely to be different for everyone. Many people worry about upsetting their loved ones, but don’t let a desire for the situation to be ‘perfect’ get in the way of the conversation.

Choosing a time and a place to talk

There is no right time or place to start a conversation, but you may find the following suggestions helpful:

Having the conversation in a setting that makes you feel safe and relaxed

Choosing to speak to someone who you feel comfortable and safe with

Talking while doing something else with your loved one, for example, going for a walk or a drive

Asking a healthcare professional to join the conversation – or help you prepare for it – to provide guidance and a neutral point of view

Having several short conversations instead of trying to explain everything in one go

Finding ways to start talking

Whilst every individual’s experience with depression is personal to them, it is not intrusive to check in with them. Ways to do this without forcing the conversation can include:


Asking them ‘how are you today?’


Mentioning something that is concerning you, for example, ‘I’ve noticed you haven’t been sleeping as much lately, is there something on your mind?’


Letting them know you’re there if they want to talk


Doing everyday activities together

Feeling nervous is normal

It’s normal to feel nervous, guilty or scared about the first conversation you have with someone about depression. You might find it helpful to:


Speak to someone outside your family first, for example, a friend, co-worker or healthcare professional


Prepare a simple explanation of what depression is, perhaps with the support of a healthcare professional


Write down what you want to say beforehand so it’s clear in your mind


Let the person know ahead of time that you want to talk, for example, 'I haven't been feeling myself lately and could use someone to talk to. When might be a good time to chat?'

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Remember it’s not personal

While you may feel guilty if you were unaware of your loved one’s feelings, it is not your fault. Try to remember:

During initial conversations people living with depression may not use the word ‘depression’ to describe what is happening, and they may not even know that it is what they are experiencing. Instead, they may focus on their experiences or physical symptoms such as complaints of aches and pains or of feeling tired all the time, so it is okay if you were not aware of the nature or extent of their feelings

With depression, there are often no signs that someone is struggling unless they tell you about it

A loved one experiencing depression may become withdrawn, shy, sullen or even angry. These changes in mood can be challenging to experience and it is okay to feel confused or even scared. Try to understand that it isn’t personal and isn’t because of anything you have, or haven’t, done

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Be as honest as possible about how you feel

You might feel pressure to say that you are ‘fine’ when people ask you how you are, but it’s important to be as honest as possible about how you feel. It might be helpful to:

Use metaphors and analogies to help you describe your symptoms to others, for example, ‘it’s like having a knot in my stomach’ or ‘it feels like a heavy weight on my chest’

Ask not to be interrupted until you’ve finished talking

Let people know if you’re having a particularly difficult day or a better day – it is normal for your experiences of depression to ebb and flow in severity, with some days feeling better or worse than others

Try to listen with compassion

Although it can be hard, remember that you don’t always need to give advice. Being a compassionate listener is often even more important than providing answers, and many people with depression see giving answers as a role for healthcare professionals. Here’s what you can do instead:


  • Recognise that their feelings are valid
  • Listen carefully, without interrupting
  • Avoid judgement or blame
  • Only offer solutions if you’re asked
  • Suggest seeking professional support together if the context allows for it

Try not to

  • Minimise the person’s feelings by trying to cheer them up
  • Suggest they have no reason to feel sad or try to rationalise your loved one’s experience; depression is a biological condition that can affect anyone
  • Downplay how serious depression is to show the person that they can overcome it easily
  • Express feelings of anger, disappointment or guilt when your loved one does open up to you for the first time