How to connect with depressed friends | Bill Bernat

The one conversation that uplifted me
more than any other in my life was with a woman who told me how, a few days earlier, she drove her Jeep Wrangler
to the edge of the Grand Canyon and sat there, revving the engine, thinking about driving over. Even though I had severe social anxiety, in that conversation,
I was totally at ease. (Laughter) She told me what was going on in her life in the days and months leading up, what her thoughts were
at that exact moment, why she wanted to die, and why she didn’t do it. We nodded and half-smiled, and then it was my turn
to talk about my journey to a dining table
in the hygienic community area of the mental health wing
of a mountain-town hospital. I took too many sleeping pills, and after they treated me for that, they were like, “Hey, we would love it
if you would be our guest in the psych ward.” (Laughter) We joked that her suicide
would have made a way better postcard. (Laughter) We talked shop. (Laughter) She allowed me to be deeply depressed and have a genuine connection
to another person, simultaneously. For the first time, I identified as somebody
living with depression, and I felt good about it — like I wasn’t a bad person for it. Now imagine one of the people
at that table was a member of your family or a close friend. Would you be comfortable talking to them? What if instead of the hospital, they were at your kitchen table and told you they were really depressed? The World Health Organization says that depression is the leading cause
of ill health and disability worldwide, affecting 350 million people. The National Institute of Mental Health reports seven percent of Americans
experiencing depression in a year. So depression is super common, yet in my experience, most folks don’t want
to talk to depressed people unless we pretend to be happy. A cheerful facade is appropriate
for casual interactions. A depressed person can ask for extra syrup
in their pumpkin spice latte without explaining that they need it because they’re trapped
in the infinite darkness of their soul and they’ve lost all hope of escape — (Laughter) again. (Laughter) Depression doesn’t diminish
a person’s desire to connect with other people, just their ability. So in spite of what you might think, talking to friends and family
living with depression can be really easy and maybe even fun. Not, like, Facebook-selfie-with-Lady-Gaga-
at-an-underground-party fun — I’m talking about the kind of fun where people enjoy
each other’s company effortlessly. Nobody feels awkward, and no one accuses the sad person
of ruining the holidays. Why does this chasm even exist? On the one side, you have people living with depression who may act in off-putting
or confusing ways because they’re fighting
a war in their head that nobody else can see. On the other side, the vast majority of people
look across the chasm and shake their heads, like, “Why you gotta be so depressed?” You may recognize
a divide like this in your life. Do you want to build a bridge across it? You may not want to build a bridge — and that’s a totally valid choice. Or maybe you’d like to build
a stronger connection, but you have a lot
of questions and concerns. You’re what I might call “bridge curious.” (Laughter) Here are some possible reasons why some of you
may avoid depressed people. You might be afraid that if you talk to somebody
while they’re depressed, you’re suddenly responsible
for their well-being. You’re not expected to be Dr. Phil. Just be friendly — more like Ellen. (Laughter) You may worry that you won’t
know what to say, and every attempt
at conversation will be awkward, and the only time you’ll feel comfortable is when you both just give up on talking and stare at your phones. Words are not the most important
thing to focus on. You might fear seeing your shadow. Hey, if you have been
successfully outrunning your personal emotional demons, that’s awesome. May the wind be at your back. (Laughter) You can be the least
woo-woo person in the world and still connect with depressed people. Maybe you’ve heard
that depression is contagious, and you’re afraid of catching it. Bring some hand sanitizer. (Laughter) You’re much more likely to catch
the joy of human bonding. Maybe you see
depressed people differently. You think of them as flawed or defective. Multiple university studies have shown that A students are more likely
to have bipolar condition. Our brains aren’t broken or damaged, they just work differently. I spent a lot of years thinking
happy people just don’t get it. (Laughter) I did eventually stop
discriminating against happy people — (Laughter) I began battling depression
when I was eight, and decades later, to my surprise, I started winning. I shifted from being miserable
much of the time to enjoying life. I live pretty well
with my bipolar condition, and I’ve overcome some other
mental health conditions like overeating, addiction
and social anxiety. So I live on both sides of this chasm. And I’m offering some guidance based on my experience to help you build a bridge across it if you want to. It’s not hard science, but I worked with a lot people
I know who’ve lived with depression to refine these suggestions. First up, some things
you might want to avoid — some “don’ts.” One of the most off-putting
things you can say is, “Just get over it.” Great idea — love it, it’s just we already thought of that. (Laughter) The absence of the ability
to just get over it is depression. (Laughter) (Applause) We feel it in our bodies — it’s a physical thing for us. And medically it’s no different from telling someone
with a broken ankle or cancer, “just get over it.” Don’t be hell-bent on fixing us. Like, thank you, but … the pressure can make us depressed people
feel like we’re disappointing you. Also, things that make
some people feel better may not work for us. You can’t cure clinical depression
by getting ice cream … which is unfortunate, because
that would be living the dream. (Laughter) Don’t take a negative response personally. So, I have a friend who, about a year ago, messaged me that he was really
isolated and depressed. And I suggested some things for him to do, and he was like, “No, no and no.” And I got mad, like, how dare he not embrace
my brilliant wisdom? (Laughter) And then I remembered
times I’ve been depressed, and how I thought I was doomed
in all possible futures, or everybody suddenly hated me,
and things like that. It didn’t matter how many people
told me otherwise — I didn’t believe them. So I let my friend know I cared, and I didn’t take it personally. Don’t let a lack of bubbly
happiness freak you out. It’s not a shark attack. “Call the coast guard, my friend is sad!” (Laughter) We can be sad and OK at the same time. I’m going to say that again, because in our society,
we’re taught the opposite, and so it’s counterintuitive. People can be sad and OK at the same time. So some of these things may apply
to you personally, some may not. Take what’s useful. And remember, you don’t have to connect. If you want to, here are some suggestions that may help — some “dos.” Talk to us in your natural voice, right? (Laughter) You don’t need to put on a sad voice
because we’re depressed — you don’t sneeze when you’re talking
to somebody with a cold. (Laughter) It’s not rude to be upbeat. You can be you, OK? If you make an offer to be there for us, clearly state what you can and can’t do. I have told people,
“Hey, call or text any time, but I might not be able
to get back to you that same day.” It’s totally cool to not make an offer, or to make a narrow offer
with really clear boundaries around it. Give us a sense of control. Like, get our consent. I have a friend who, a while back, when I was having a depressive episode, reached out and said,
“Hey, I want to check in with you. Can I call you every day? Maybe text you every day
and call later in the week? What works for you?” By getting my permission,
she earned my complete confidence and remains one of my best friends today. And my last suggestion is: interact about not depression, aka, normal stuff. I have a friend who,
when people were worried about him, they would call and ask
if he wanted to go shopping or help them clean out their garage. Your depressed friends
could be a good source of free labor — (Laughter) What I’m really getting at is, invite them to contribute
to your life in some way, even if it’s as small
as asking you to go see a movie that you wanted to see in the theater. So that’s a lot
of dos and don’ts and maybes, and it’s not by any means
a definitive list. The thing to remember
is that they’re all grounded in one guiding principle. It’s what allowed the woman
in the Jeep Wrangler to start me on the path to recovery
without even trying. She talked to me like I belonged and contributed exactly as I was
at that moment. If you talk to a depressed person
as if their life is just as valuable, intense and beautiful as yours, then there’s no need
to build a bridge between you, because you’ve closed the chasm. Focus on that instead of your words, and it may be the most uplifting
conversation of their life. What could that do
for somebody you care about? What could it do for you? Thank you. (Applause)

About the author


  1. "A cheerful facade is appropriate for casual interactions. A depressed person can ask for extra syrup in their pumpkin spice latte without explaining they need it because they're trapped in the infinite darkness of their soul and they've lost all hope of escape…again."

  2. This TED Talk was really insightful. As a depressed person, it has vocalized why I feel and react the way I do very accurately and I've learned a lot to approach new connections differently. I've found the TED Talks about depression to be the most interesting ones since I struggle to explain to others how and why I feel the way I do. Thanks for this!

  3. how exactly do you identify depression in a person if he she is trying to hide it? what if you confuse it for some other affection or you are just afraid to make the assumption that he she is depressed?

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  5. This guy is admirable and spot on on so many levels. Inviting your depressed friend to help you out sometimes, could make him/her feel useful, which could tremendously help them out as well regarding their state of mind. I know it is not easy being around depressed people, but don't forget, depressed people are not like that because they want to. Friends who stood by their during those times, those are your true blue friends. They are genuinely good people, I would say don't ever let them go. Because just imagine, they are people who genuinely want to be around a depressed person, to help and give comfort. I applaud this guy, he is such a fantastic speaker. It must have taken him such great courage to beat those odds, to get to that stage.

  6. i think this message is applicable to building any kind of human connection… basically focus on connecting with the person and not their issues, habits or talents… focus on why are they doing what they're doing and not what it is they are doing, because they might stop doing it and start doing something new but their motivation to do that thing will be connected to who they are

  7. "i did eventually stop discriminating against happy people" story of my life
    "the absence of the ability to just get over it is depression" the truth

  8. Couldn't think of what he was talking about while he was outside the red spot. The only thought in my mind was – please return in the circle!

  9. Mix up bipolar condition with depression caused by physical problem, for which there is not solution or cure for and you have no way of getting out of the depression loop other than doing the one thing which can put an end to it.

    If you are perfectly healthy and nothing bad happened to you since you were born, then I imagine it is easy to get out of depression.

  10. Great talk .. know their boundaries, give them control/ask their consent, do not feel you own their depression, be you, and make them feel valuable, contributing, and equal.

  11. I usually don't mind happy people, just the ones who think they have any idea what depression is like without ever having it.

  12. I have a depressed friend. I've found the greatest trouble is not interaction but getting him to receive treatment. He still clearly believes that the depression is somehow his fault and that he can overcome it through willpower alone. I've tried to communicate that its nothing to be ashamed about and that he should treat it like any other medical condition. He continues to bring up his depression, though I have ran out things to really say about it. I act as a listening ear, but I've stopped suggesting treatment because it seems utterly unwanted. Maybe he just needs to talk about it, but its hard to shake the feeling that he wants me to say or do something that he thinks will help him.

  13. Great presentation — I relate to Mr. Bernat. I suffered from depression but have also progressed to the point where I enjoy life from day to day. I agree that one of the worst aspects of depression is the isolation. It is incredibly hard to reach out when one is depressed, and sometimes it is even hard to connect when someone does reach out. Perhaps there should be an awareness initiative so that people can recognize depression and respond more how Mr. Bernat has outlined. At the very least, empathy and understanding would go a long way toward the healing process.

  14. eh.. i liked a few points but found it overly directive at times.. instead of giving directive advice like "do's and dont's", i prefer just educating /informing people to better understand sickness.. for example, how the spectrum of health also includes psychological health, how the parameters /criteria to classify something as a "disorder" are often arbitrary (like if you have certain depressive symptoms for a certain amount of weeks then it can be technically classified as depression, otherwise it technically isn't yet), which brings us to the point of various forms of psychological sickness often being on a continuum, rather than being black and white.. so, once we broaden our understanding on these concepts, we can imagine most if not all people relating to psychological sickness (not just 7% of people being depressed, as mentioned in the video, which sounds way too low to me; that 7% must be only based on "officially diagnosed cases of depression", meeting the official criteria and also being reported). once we better understand sickness, we will also tend to relate to people going through it in a more sort of neutral /understanding way

  15. I have a question and would welcome any answer!
    I have a depressed friend who I would hang out with now and then and everytime we hang out, he would ask my opinion on options to "get better". He was already seeing a therapist, so I just suggested starting exercise, writing a journal, etc…and asked him what he think would work. In the end, he did not do any, which was frustrating for both of us. If we hang out, he would ask how I was doing, and at that time I was doing school, work, and traveling here and there. He would cut off any time I mention traveling as it made him feel like he was missing out. No prob. I did not talk about it. I work night shift and was juggling school so I would tell him to text me anytime he needs to talk, but if I am working, I might not text him till a lot later. When texting, its frustrating because of tone and stuff, so we would try to meet. He would always ask about what he should do to get better and it's like an endless circle all over again. If we hang out, I try to do other stuff with him like movies or just a normal dinner, and in the end he would say it felt like I didn't care that much when we didn't talk about his depression, but if do, like I said, endless circle.

    I have not talked to him in 1 year or so and would like to reconnect and help, but how should I go about it and what should I do differently?

  16. I have a friend living in New York. He went through a divorce and a few days before it was finalized his wife accused him of molesting his daughter. He had an alibi(his sister and myself were with and talking to him at the time he was accused) but he’s gotten probation and put on a list.

    He got a job but he is getting tossed around and told to do multiple interviews. Also that they are now interviewing other people(after he was told he got the job). The irs is auditing him again and he is about to lose his car. And his family won’t offer him a place to stay.

    Over the past 2 years I’ve loaned him $1,200. He’s between a rock and hard place with no money and no car. No family willing to help. And if he gets the job he won’t have a way to get there without the car and he doesn’t have a place to stay. He needs $1,000 just to keep his car.

    What do I do for him, what can I do for him?

  17. So… If you behave like everybody does to Eeyore in the 100 acre woods…. That doesn't sound that bad, actually. I could be Eeyore. I can work with that.

  18. would have loved to hear you talk about my problem with connecting to some depressed people which are those who constantly broadcast their depression to manipulate others into giving them special treatment, attention, care. some use their depression in a very passive aggressive way. without those – other people would have much less problems connecting to them. it's one thing to connect with a depressed person, it's another to connect with someone who uses one's depression for playing mind-games with those connecting. if one can't get rid of a depression completely, maybe there's at least a way to avoid the 'dark side' of depression.

  19. Thank you, Bill.

    I'm listening both as a person who grapples with severe clinical depression, but has had a lot of help to treat it; and as a person who often finds myself in a position to help other people suffering from a similar disorder. So, I guess I could say that I also "live on both sides of the chasm."

    And I just have to say, I relate to all of this so strongly. I try to treat depressed people the way I wish that others would have treated me when I was suffering, and so many things in this talk are exactly what I would have liked to have received. It's also good to hear some validation for how I try to help other people going through similar struggles.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thank you.

  20. Depression is not the same as stress; stress is a physical condition, depression is a psychological condition that creates a physical response. First of all, don't eat so much sugar- for all those that only speak American- that means: no tomato sauce, no granola, no wieners. And get some fking sunlight, I get my 10 mins worth in Canada, you should be able to get it in the Sunshine state. But ultimately it's just like tenacity through hardships, there are 3rd world families that can't even afford to eat with kids that end up in ivy league so having cancer is not an excuse. The first step to solving a problem is realizing that there is one. Your good friend google can solve anything, ask him and make a change. And if you can't make it change? Well that just you branding "Won't" with "Can't" and you deserve fking cancer.

  21. What do you say when someone does talk and vent about their depression? Listening is good, but how do I comfort them without saying something they already know or thought about? They know I'm there for them, and they share a lot, but most of the time I just stare half smiling and at a loss of words?

  22. I myself took this advice for granted before, but sometimes all people really want is to be listened, to be heard, to be acknowledged and know that what they are saying matters.

  23. "Depression doesn't diminish a person's desire to connect with other people,just their ability"
    Beautiful. SPOT ON.

  24. Is American society really conflating bubbly happiness with being ok? That's kinda sad. I thought that was a stereotype.

  25. The reason I tend to avoid depressed people is not because of the silly reasons like "depression is contagious" but because of the "negative response" (at the 9:20). When someone is attacking me personally (or just my ideas and the stuff I like) I get the impression that they are annoyed by me and probably do not want me to bother them anymore.

  26. I am sad a lot of the time, but I AM ok. So much of what Mr Bernat talked about describes my experience with depression perfectly. I believe he will help a lot of people who listen to the TED. Thank you

  27. I am laughing and crying at the same time. I have spent my whole life around depressed people and had a few episode's myself. I learnt a few new tricks here, for both sides of the fence. The rest I can verify as very good advice. So thank you very much Bill , I rather needed both the laugh and the cry.

  28. Absolutely essential listening for all. I'm a paramedic with a history of mental health problems, both work and non-working related. Mental health problems are fairly common in any cohort in society, but more so in emergency workers, and this video gives me some guidelines on the conversations I should and shouldn't have with workmates that are struggling. Thank you.

  29. My best friend has depression and I never had a big problem with that because all I want in life for her is to get healthy again. But 3 months ago she ended our friendship. We had like a real break up talk where we both cried but she said stuff like its to much for her… I don't know maybe I tried to hard to help her!? It breaks my heart and I really feel like I've lost my soulmate but at the same time I am to hurt to reconnect with her because that's obviously nothing she wants 🙁

  30. I find these tips very helpful. I was messaging a friend last night who had been considering ending her own life for the past few days and the only thing holding her back was her pride. I wasn't exactly sure how to talk to her about it and many times I just froze midconversation. It's nervewracking wanting to help but feeling like you can't. I understand that depression isn't something that changes overnight. I felt like we both wanted to avoid that topic, but at the same time it was tugging at the back of my mind. I really just wanted to say "You are loved, you are an inspiration, and you can fight on."

  31. On point in so many ways. What I would say to my friend.. if you don't like talking to me when I'm upset about my job, don't ask me about my job literally everytime you see me. Change the subject. I feel currently like my very good friend built a rift between us rather than a bridge. She was the last person I trusted.

  32. Very good speech. I don't contact or approach anybody because of the depression. But I feel relieved when somebody try to contact me or even just say 'hi!'. It breaks a bit the sad long years of isolation.

  33. Yup, the worst things a potential supporter can do is either A) Come across as you don't believe them and B) Tell them to get over it.

  34. Cognitive dissonance and depression aren’t the same thing @whoever the guy in this TED talk is. Stop victimizing yourself

  35. Connecting with depressed friend is a serious problem that we need to pay attention.People living with depression usually Won’t try to talk with others.They will always stay alone.Some of the people may also want to die.These problem are common nowadays.We need to concern about the depressing people.always be with the depressing people.Don’t let them alone and feel too sad and the main point is that don’t give them up and always support them.

  36. This video is extremely useful and important, but the sad thing is that most people would have to be already comprehensive to get its wisdom

  37. I just don't get depression. Why can't you people just choose to be happy? It's that easy. Sheesh making a big deal out of it.

  38. Cant help it, but I just want to tell my story. And Im doing fine, this is no call for help. Iv been struggeling with social anxiaty almost my whole life. I can relate to alot of what he says on how you think when you are depressed, you dont want to ruin everyone elses happyness or exitment. But we still want to connect with others. When my anxiaty was at its worst place I didnt leave my house for 3 years if its wasnt for a really good reason. I was lonly lost contact with alot of "my friends" because of my anxiaty. Today Iv been going to therpy for 6 month. And I keep fighting everyday to win over my anxiaty and will of course do it as long as I liv, I dont wont to fall down that 3 year hole again and be isolated like that. But the greatest cure was when and old friend messeged me and wonder how I did. I played my act and didnt explain how bad it was, cause I didnt want to apper like a downer. I also rememeber him saying to me, you are strong, and shortly after asked me if I wanned to hang out. He also invited me to join him in some airsoft games. Im still very scared of groups of people. And at the start a "really bad conversation" could make me get almost suicidal thouts. But over time Iv come to understand that Its only my destructiv thouhts that make me feel so bad after a "bad day". But I would never have been able to do it this fast or even do it if it wasnt for that messege. So on a bad day, I let the pain ride out, the next day I get up and do it again. And to just be part of something, be allowed to hangout with people with out judging me, that has done ALOT to cure me. And latly Iv been starting to date a girl, something I thought was impossible a year ago :D. Im still unable to work, and studie. But Im at the moment able to take my driver licens. And my goals for the future is to studie computer science, hopefully within 2 years from now :). So ye build a brige, I got a new best friend thanks to that :D.

  39. What Bill said near the end resonates with me. I'm not afraid of people knowing I am depressed. But I really am disgusted when they feel they have to tiptoe around me or try to 'help' me. I wear glasses but am treated normally. I am short, but am treated normally. I have crazy short hair, but am treated normally. I have kids and am treated as a mother; guess what? That's normal! So most people aren't aware of my depression simply so THEY will treat me normally. Notice I didn't say 'with respect'; that's because, if my behaviour hasn't earned someone's respect – then that is normal as well. Some days are very foggy-minded for me and I simply don't notice people on the street – I am mindful of that fogginess and focusing so hard on my shopping that everything not directly concerned with my physical safety goes unnoticed. I couldn't otherwise get out and get things done. I haven't given up trying, anyway.

  40. I have a best friend who has depression and for the past two years I’ve been trying to help her through it but I’m at that point where it’s just getting worse and her constant negativity gets to me and it’s draining me. I want to enjoy my senior year but every time I invite her out and talk to her in band or at school, she either doesn’t talk and has the moodiest look ever or replied with one word answers like she doesn’t care. I’m not the happiest person all the time but I count on her to be my friend and try to make an effort to be there for me too or at least smile and try to have fun. I’ve done about everything I can to help her but she is shutting everyone out and I don’t know how much I can take of it.

  41. I don't think I'm responsible for my girlfriend's wellbeing. I have never once thought that i can or should have to save her from her own mind. She's brilliant and has done everything in her own rational ability to help herself. I've learned to understand that it's not her talking all the time, but it might be her depression.
    But then what can i say? I'm worried that I'll pressure her by making her feel like I'm disappointed that i can't fix her. I'm worried that she'll worry about me. I don't want to drag her around, and yet i don't want her to stay home all day. I know she's thought of everything that can help her, so there's nothing i can say that's new to her. Yes, in the end all i can do is just be with her, but the truth is that i can't always do that and only so much can happen over text.

    Contrary to what depressed people may think, happy people aren't unable to connecy with the depressed. Every day, I feel like I'm in a checkmate where every move seems to be a bad idea, except for the one that's physically impossible at the moment.

    Perhaps it may sound selfish, but we need help too. Unlike depressed people, we're the ones who are voluntarily staring into the abyss that's depression, even almost falling into it ourselves at times. I'm not happy, I'm always worried an unsure. I've harmed myself with the hope that it'll drown out my dilemmas.

    I just don't know what to do.

  42. Is there some reason for the introduction music to be so ridiculously LOUD!!? That is not necessary! I look here for some advice to help my friend and I get a shattered ear drum in the process!!! Sheesh!

  43. "your depressed friend could be a good source of free labor". when I was depressed, if ppl would ask me for a small favor, I began to think that I'm a useless person who got no goals in life that's why ppl are taking me to do their chores.
    So it's not a good idea to invite them for real help.

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