Delivering bad news to a loved one is hard enough when that person doesn’t have depression. With someone who does, you might worry that the bad news will set the person off, making the depression even worse. You might even worry that the person will become actively suicidal.
Relax. It will be all right. If you’ve never delivered bad news before, these six steps should make it a little easier.
The only thing worse than receiving bad news is being surprised with bad news. Although the person you’re delivering the bad news to will probably recognize that something serious has happened from your expression, you should still provide a verbal warning before beginning. For instance, you can open the conversation with: “I’m sorry, but I have bad news to tell you.”
Before meeting with the person, make sure that you know what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it. If you come unprepared, you might be tempted to blurt out the bad news or say something insensitive. You might also become too anxious to deliver the news. If necessary, write out notes or practice your words in front of a mirror.
Choose the right environment
When you deliver bad news to another person, choosing the right environment is essential. You should choose somewhere quiet, private and comfortable. Do not deliver bad news in a restaurant, on a city street or in any other place that will be filled with strangers. If you’re in a semi-private environment — say, an office — make sure the door is closed so that you cannot be interrupted.
Know how to contact the right people
When you deliver bad news to a person with depression, make sure you have the ability to contact the person’s doctors or family members in case the situation gets out of control. If necessary, help the person set up a doctor’s appointment or schedule a time for the person to see friends and family members.
Don’t try to fix everything
After delivering bad news, you might be tempted to try to fix that bad news immediately. For instance, you might shower the person in gifts, tell the person to “look on the bright side” or make a joke. Give the person a chance to process the news. Instead of bombarding the person with metaphors designed to soften the blow, let him or her know that it’s acceptable and understandable to feel negative emotions.
Watch out for suicidal behavior
When a person is depressed, a stressful or traumatic event might increase his or her risk of suicide. Some of the warning signs of suicidal behavior include:
- Talking about having no reason to live
- Talking about being a burden to other people
- Talking about feeling trapped
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
- Giving away belongings
- A sudden, unexplained positive mood
If you notice any of these signs, contact a doctor immediately. The person’s life might be at risk.
There’s no easy or nice way to break bad news. The best thing you can do is be respectful, calm and prepared. Hopefully, having this list on hand will make that a little easier.
Sovereign Health of California’s mental health treatment program uses innovative, evidence-based techniques to treat patients who are suffering from a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental and behavioral health disorders. Our licensed and multi-disciplinary medical professionals use several approaches to combat each condition. For more information, contact our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Courtney Lopresti, M.S. in neuroscience, Sovereign Health Group staff writer