How to talk to someone who is struggling

Spoiler: 'cheer up' doesn't work


Just don’t be sad

There’s nothing to worry about

Other people have it worse than you

If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, then you will likely have found yourself on the receiving end of such comments like the above. When recording an upcoming episode of our podcast, we fell onto the topic of things you shouldn’t say to people who are struggling with their mental health.

Mental health is something we all deal with. Yet why do so many of us find it hard to open up? And why is it so awkward to listen to others explore their deepest feelings?

Your gender, upbringing, social class, friendship groups and workplace experiences can all impact your approach to discussing mental health. I, for one, didn’t start to navigate my way through anxiety and panic disorder until I started telling people about it.

Sharing is (self)caring

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t running through the street shouting “sometimes I hide in the loo to have a panic attack.” But I did find that saying “hey, I get a bit nervous on the metro, so if I am quiet then I’m not being rude,” was a great way of taking the edge off the worry.

But, what about when you are on the receiving end of a loved one’s anxiety or depression? During my most anxiety-ridden years (2014-17), I was in a perpetual state of fight-or-flight. As a result, I was exhausted, irritable and a bit of a nightmare to go anywhere with. Craig, the trooper that he is, was always patient with me, gently nudging me to push myself but not forcing me into uncomfortable situations. And that was the sweet spot for me.

Anxious people can come across as rude, mean, snappy, quiet and a combination of all of those at once. If you notice someone’s mood switches in different situations, they might be feeling anxious. Try to engage them in a conversation about something they’re passionate about, or make an excuse to get them out of the situation. Never comment on their nervousness in front of others - it’ll only make them feel even worse next time they are in that situation.

Not just summertime sadness

In my experience, depression is a little more complicated as there is always a big fear of saying the wrong thing to someone who is already in a vulnerable state.

Of course, if your loved one is in a very dark place, you can do everything you can to try and get them to seek help - but (in most cases) they must make that decision themselves.

So, what can you say to a friend, colleague or even family member who is struggling right now? In an ideal world, going out for a meal or a day out would be a lovely way to show your support for them - but it’s not that easy right now.

The most important thing is they know you are there for them and you talk openly and without judgement - especially if their situation is one you can’t immediately identify with.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Nothing good has ever come from comparing yourself to others, so avoid the rhetoric of “at least you don’t…” and “others have it much worse” as this will only make them feel worse. Everyone’s feelings are valid.

Wisdom from the Twittersphere

I asked on Twitter what you should not say to someone who is experiencing anxiety/depression and I got some whopping responses:

Ending on that note, don’t forget to tune into the Conversations By The Sea podcast on Sunday for our third episode where we chat about depression. 

If you missed our first two episodes, you can watch on YouTube or listen on Spotify.


📚 Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas - More trashy escapism from Maas.

🎥 Possessor (Available to rent on Prime) - If you like Black Mirror then you’ll enjoy this.

🎧 Phoebe Bridgers - Punisher

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

10 February: Learning to say no and other lessons from two years of self employment

3 February: Learning to find joy in the mundane

27 January: No you can’t

20 January: I’ll be happy when

13 January: Why you’re tired all the time

6 January: Just keep going

23 December: A book recommendation for every mood

16 December: Burnout might not be what you think it is

9 December: Whatever happened to ‘be kind?’

2 December: The best briefs are anything but