How to Talk to a Depressed Friend

A year ago, I lost touch with Sharanya*, a very close friend of mine. The calls and chats gradually ground to a halt for six months. What happened? Sharanya and I did not exactly have a huge dramatic meltdown… I wish we’d had one. It was all very slow, very imperceptible. I could see that she was going through a rough patch, I tried to be there for her, but she told me, “You’d help me best if you left me alone.” It hurt to hear this, but I reluctantly decided to give her what she asked for.

It took a lot of soul searching to overcome the pain of rejection. It took even longer to realize the real culprit – my friend was depressed. What I thought was the judicious thing to do – giving her space, was actually the very opposite of what I should’ve done. We all have loved ones who’ve faced the blues and lashed out at us in their pain. Depending on our personalities, we lash back or just slink away like I did. So what should you really do for your depressed parent / relative / friend / spouse? How  can you be there for a depressed person? What should you say? Here are some tips on how to talk to a depressed friend:

Asking open ended questions

“What’s on your mind?”

Initiating a conversation when you suspect a loved one is depressed can be awkward. Relax, it’s not the movies – you don’t have to say that one mind blowing, goose bumps inducing dialogue that will make your friend jump back on their feet, ready to take on the world! You can start a conversation by being direct, but gentle, “I feel like you’ve been having a rough time recently. What’s on your mind? How can I help?” Without being too pushy, ask open ended questions.

And what do you do if your friend does not want to talk about their feelings? Just be there for them, spend time with them, check in on them and let them know that you are there for them, whenever they feel like they are ready to talk.


“I get you.”

When they talk, listen to them in order to understand them (and not to instantly fling out quick-fix solutions like a ninja’s knives). Leave your cell phone aside, and give them your full attention. Validate their feelings with “I get you”, “That sounds difficult” or “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Helping with Daily Chores

“What can I help you with today?”

With depression, keeping up with day-to-day chores can get overwhelming, more so when the backlog keeps piling up. Instead of a vague, “kuch chahiye ho toh bataana”, specifically ask your loved one what task you can help them with today – cooking a meal / sending one over / picking up medications or groceries. If you can make the time, offer to come over and accompany them for a particular task with some music.

Occasionally they may cancel plans at the last minute. Be understanding, let them know that they need not feel guilty and that the rain check can be encashed later, whenever they feel like it. What you offer may not be what they need, so suggest, ensure they aren’t hesitating and then leave it to them.

Continuing to be there

“I’m there for you.”

While you may have the patience initially, it may wear thin as the weeks go by. After seemingly happy days when you feel that your loved one is back to their erstwhile normal self, they may spiral down. Understand that it may be one long roller coaster ride. Take a break if you need one and recharge your batteries (you’re human too!)

At times it may seem to be like a one-way street with no reciprocation. Hang in there without losing faith in the relationship. Stay in touch through calls, hugs, messages, or “Bass aise hi yaad aayi teri” or even silly memes on inside jokes if that’s your jam!

Knowing your enemy

“I’m so sorry for what you’re going through.”

Read up about depression and the possible symptoms. Depression can take on varying forms like anger, lethargy, confusion, memory loss, excess sleep or tiredness or even actual pains in the head or tummy! Read up about the myths, misconceptions and danger signs to watch out for.

Dissociating the person from the illness

“It’s not you, it’s the depression.”

Sometimes depression causes people to feel like they are a burden or that you would be better off without them. Remind your depressed loved one that it’s an illness from an imbalance of chemicals in their brain and not a character flaw. Telling them what you like about them and that they matter to you will help. If you do get angry at them, reassure them that it’s their illness that you are frustrated at and not them.

Getting expert help

“How can we help you get better?”

Though we feel like we could be better than Shah Rukh Khan from Dear Zindagi, counselling is a legitimate profession that needs training. Whenever your friend is open to the idea, help them find a therapist and offer help to set up an appointment. If medications are needed, offer to accompany them to the psychiatrist like you would take them to an orthopaedist if they were to break a bone. Depression can cause them to feel too drained to keep up with the visits. Keep checking in regularly. Nudge, don’t shove.

Oh, what about Sharanya? I’m ashamed (and relieved) to say that she reached out to me on my birthday. Her depression hasn’t gone fully, but is much better now. Also, we both are closer than ever before.

* not her real name.

Details of Illness

“Do observe all the symptoms of your illness and report even the minutest of changes”, says your homeopathic doctor. “Yes, yes doctor, I’ll do that” you promise your doctor, but you can’t help coming away feeling, “what is it that I have to look at?!”

So here are some things that you can observe and report about your illness:

  • What are your complaints?
  • Since when have you noticed these symptoms?
  • What is the exact location of your pain / eruption / sensation?
  • How would you best describe the type of pain / sensation that you get?
  • Can you trace back the beginning of your symptoms to any event? (Diet / Accident / Injury / Over exertion / Weather change / Mental Upset… Don’t worry if it’s scientific or if it sounds silly. Your doctor will figure out if its relevant. If it correlates to the same time as the beginning of your complaints, do mention it.)
  • What are the factors that increase or decrease your complaints? (Movement / Time of the Day/ Season  / Body position / warmth / cold / Consuming a particular food item / pressure / draft of fan / noise / light / talking etc.)
  • Any other complaints that occur along with this complaint?



Why do Homeopathic Doctors ask so many Questions?

“I can figure out when a patient has been taking homoeopathy,” said my father amusedly over a meal one day. You see, my father is an allopathic general practitioner. If you were to visit him with a cough, he’d hear you out, ask you a couple of questions, examine you and off you’d go with a prescription. In and out of his cabin under five or ten minutes!
But if you came to me, a consultation would just be beginning when you thought it had ended. I’d bore / irritate / surprise you with seemingly inane questions like what time of the day does your cough increase or what colour is your phlegm.
Yes, it’s a different experience. But once you get the hang of it, you become an expert at observing and narrating your symptoms in detail. Which is exactly how my father would know when a patient has been taking homeopathy. A patient once put it as, “I went on and on about the colour and the smell and what not about my poop. The way your father smiled, I realised then that he didn’t need so many details. But I’ve gotten so used to it now…”
So why do homeopathic doctors ask so many questions?

God is in the Details

They say that God is in the details, but for a homeopath, it’s the remedy that is in the details. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have a dry cough. I have about 514 remedies that I can choose from. So how do I know which one to pick for you? If you go on to tell me that your cough worsens while you are eating, that narrows it down to about 93 remedies for me. Then if you say, ‘Doctor if I am just sitting still, I am okay. Whenever I do any movement, I begin to cough’. What a great observation, but that still gives me 79 remedies to think about. Now if you say that you get a stitching kind of pain in your chest every time you cough, and I consider everything that you’ve told me so far, it still boils down to about 31 odd remedies. (And that is why I will continue to hound you with questions!)

The Timely Call

Just then you happen to get a phone call from your boss, whereby you apologetically excuse yourself, step out, answer your call and come back into the warm cabin room. And this warm air in the room sets you into another fit of cough. ‘Oh yes, I’ve noticed this every time I walk into a warm room.’ The minute you say this, a smile spreads across my face. A combined analysis of your fantastic observations have just narrowed it down to two remedies for me now! I ask you about your thirst for water and you narrate how you’ve been as thirsty as a sponge since the last two days. Cha Ching! We’ve now struck gold!! A few more questions to confirm that I have the essence of what remedy you need and now I have that one remedy out of the 514 that fits your condition exactly and will work like magic.

One size does not fit all

Why do you need so many remedies for dry cough? Why can’t you just have one size that fits all and get done with it? Well, homeopathic medicines believe in treating the person with the cough and not just the cough. And just like no two people are alike, neither are their coughs. Some people have a cough that comes on only at night, while others get a bout when they talk. I’m sure you’ve noticed how different the illnesses are with every member of your family. Not just the symptoms, but also what triggers each illness, how quickly it comes on, how long it drags out, what depth it goes to, how much damage it leaves behind … It’s all so different for every person. Different people with different ways in which they are affected need differing remedies too, don’t they?

It begins at the end

If Mr. Kamat came to an allopath with cough since more than three weeks, night sweats, evening fevers and weight loss, the allopathic would gather that this is what Mr. Kamat has in common with  all patients who have tuberculosis. A few tests would confirm the diagnosis and this is where the story would end with a standard regimen of treatment.
However with a homeopath this would be the beginning. After a few tests to confirm the diagnosis, they would try to find out what it is that sets Mr. Kamat’s tuberculosis apart. None of the common symptoms that led to the diagnosis would be considered. Just like we saw earlier, all peculiar symptoms and signs would be analysed to pick a remedy that specifically suits Mr. Kamat’s tuberculosis.

Knowing what to look for

So how would you know what symptoms are common and what are important for your homeopath? Well, that’s not your headache, it’s your homeopath’s. All you need to do is observe yourself and report anything that you notice is a change from your routine self. Which of them to use to diagnose your illness and then which to use to diagnose your remedy is your homeopath’s job.
“Oh but Doctor, when it comes to my kids, I want to be absolutely sure that I am not missing out on anything. If I know what to look for, I will see it better. Can’t you give me a list of things that I need to observe?” Mrs. Lokhande said to me one day. I was amazed at her diligence, her intelligence and her burning desire to leave no stone unturned for her kids. Mrs. Lokhande, this one is for mothers like you – a list of things that you can observe for various types of complaints…