How Do You Talk To A Depressed Person

At all. Say anything. Actually fucking talk to them, I would have thought.

M e n t a l i l l n e s s is a desert. Communication is water. You can create water out of air, simply by saying ‘action’ and starring in a scene from your favourite film where the beautiful lead character reaches out and helps a friend. Sound fun? It’s not. It’s quite hard work, which is what actors usually say in interviews – and this movie is silent and in black and white and imaginary – but gosh, the rewards are colourful and the investment in your own hope and sense of wish fulfilment: golden.

Talk. Say words. Anything really. Except not anything because there is a right-ish and squeamish approach, which is why I’m writing this because I feel I can guide you in a general direction while still maintaining the simple rule that the best way to talk to a depressed person is by actually talking to them, if you catch my drift. As in, what use is my advice on what to say if you secretly never plan to push the boat out to water.

You see, I’m quite certain that due to the mild corruption of society (consumerism, the original popularity algorithm) and outsourcing malaise of social media, we have been essentially trained to keep quiet about emotional ailments and self-stigmatise common garden-variety troubles which we are all quietly going about dealing with on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, mood swings, self-loathing, loneliness. I mean, how embarrassing is loneliness? Imagine actually trying to tell someone you know and respect that you have been feeling lonely and that it is becoming quite a problem lately.

i am cool

I would know, I tried. Well, I wrote about it on my website and that was a big step for me. This is another one. I’d like to involve you, radical magical mr / ms person whoever-you-are – let’s get married in a fiesta of concepts, I’ll let you keep your surname – I’ll permiss you to rely on your instincts, but I will carry a fairly big stick and give you a polite yoga master tap every now and then if I sense you falling into the bad habits that so many of our smart-pants-cynicool generation still do. Bad habits that result in my least favourite sound right now, especially when it comes to mental illness …


Polite silence. Sorry Justin, won’t be checking in on you there – you seem to have it all sorted.

Ah, mate, yeah, I was going to ask you about your Mum but I didn’t want to seem condescending as you are the expert on the matter and I’m only new to having a family member with schizophrenia.

Sure, the last one was a recent, real life example. Bless my friend. He said this by email. And honestly, it’s not even the novel concept of my biggest problem being that someone might appear condescending towards me – the thing that has me rushing out of bed to hammer this down is just the admission of a self-censoring subroutine. I mean, I get the sense that my friend is nowhere near alone. One thing we are probably all united in is a complex myriad of psychological excuses for getting out of doing really basic things like say – uh –

  • Asking for help.
  • Asking someone if they need help.
  • Following up with a friend who is down.
  • Admitting to being down.

Like, how many times have you maybe thought about toying with any of the above – only to let the faint, tickly trickle of pleasant endorphin based ‘get out of awkwardness jail free’ cards rain down like a hotbed of ghost lawyers dressed as you pouring your favourite cordial promising they can maintain these positive intentions of which you think while not actually placing you in harms way of ever having to carry them out.

👻 👻 👻 I don’t see why we should leave our comfort zone in this instance. I mean, what a week. We are tired and busy and this whole ‘talking about our feelings’ business will just complicate matters and could lead to an untenable situation of creating more work than we had anticipated and even the thought of this hypothetical botheration has us tensing up in the stomach. Nah, best to just pat yourself on the back and give yourself a little nod for being a decent enough person to have at least naturally conjured up the basic desire to help or reach out or connect while also maintaining the dignity, intelligence and street-smarts to not do anything rash like act on these impulses and reveal the pulsating, quivering tangle of nerves, bad dreams and unresolved conflicts that you actually are. 👻

So, now, I’m going to mention AA. No, not that AA.

The two A’s.




They go hand in hand, as far as I’m concerned. They are two peas in a pod and I want you to be aware of them.

When it comes to the job at hand. How do you talk to a

Part one – Avoidance

It’s rife. We avoid situations that might make us stressed. We avoid interactions which could embarrass us socially. Fair enough.

If someone we know is depressed or down or not themselves or by themselves or not quite right or recently single or having a hard time, we are likely to sort of, well, avoid them. Not directly, not exactly, but not the opposite either. We siphon them off to a complex friendship ditch in the quarry of our minds. We could ring them but – yeah nah – maybe a text – a quick back and forth and – yeah – that’ll do, right? And distraction and smoke and mirrors and a hundred more tomorrows and nothing really changes.

Right. Or.

You could barge on in and call someone. Yes, I mean type the actual numbers and ring them.

If you fall in the camp that perceives phone calls as anxious concepts then I suggest you try getting over this in any way possible. Why? Because some of us are in a communication connection drought and I am declaring a national emergency. You’ve read the articles, you’ve seen the stats. People are desperately unhappy and / or isolated in the nerve-control-inner-monologue-disaster-manipulation-self-destruct-bunkers of their sonic the groundhog twilight youth. It’s not pretty. I’ve been there. Some days I’m there still. And all I can say is that when someone calls me out of the blue I adore it.

Big Shout Out to all millennials and gen-z who have stopped reading at this point

Yeah, I was born in 1980. If you don’t like talking on the phone then remember that the very a c t i o n of reaching out to someone in a format that you are not completely versed in is in itself a powerful a c t. You can transmit power simply by proving that someone existed in your mind and their name was held by your hand. Words matter but actions rule. In this time of binge communication and lightweight haiku newsletters, how breathtakingly charming and dramatic the notion of a phone call.

Or a text, or a fax, or whatever. You do you.

Part 2 – Acknowledgement 

You: How are you?

Person: Terrible.


This is the point at which many people will baulk and retreat inside themselves. “Oh no,” they flail, “whatever will I say now. I’m not a trained psychologist. I was just eating an ice-cream when this compelling website implored me to phone a friend who has just lost their job and moved back in with their parents, and now here they are putting me under the pump with their gloriously honest answer to my classically mundane question. Quick, author of this post, or “ Justin” (or poor woman’s Tony Robbins) as you seem to go by these days, what would you have me say next wonderboy?”

Dude. It’s okay.

No, that is that you’d say to the person. ‘It’s okay.’

Or, how about ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’

Cliches are helpful sometimes, especially when they are treated like emergency scaffolding to hold up a tent in the blizzard of this chaotic life we’re all being blown to shit around in. Again, words are water at this point and if you were stranded in the desert I don’t exactly reckon you would be overly fussed about what brand of bottle your friend was bringing to you. Unless you’re Amanda Palmer, she only drinks the melted iceblocks of inuit tears from 1920.

Be brave. Remember love. Think slow.

There’s no rush. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems.

Do you know what a sad person needs more than anything? Ice-cream, sure, but… they need understanding – and the golden child of this conversation – acknowledgement.

I can’t tell you how important it is to have your feelings validated by someone.

Me: I feel – lonely.

You: Justin, that must be hard.

Me: Yeah – it is. It’s just my thing.

You: How long has this been going on?

Me: Oh, gee. A long time. It’s just been lately that I’ve really noticed it. I know I’m by myself too much. I don’t know. Often it feels like everyone else has people around them all the time but I’ve ended up by myself and that seems unfair.

You: You know there are a lot of people in your position.

Me: Yeah, apparently.

You: It’s nothing you’ve done. It’s just….how life works out sometimes.

Me: Hmmm.

And so forth. So, my main point is that rather than jump in and …

Me: I’m feeling lonely.

You: Have you joined any sporting teams or gone on facebook and tried to start a bushwalking club?

Me: No. * feels twice as alone *

Like, we’re programmed to live in this quick-fix society where everything has a solution and maybe if I just pressed the right combo of buttons I could defeat this evil ‘self island’ game that seems to be hijacking my waking vibe and ability to feel confident and consistent.

Well, no, because we are people. We are not programs. We are not machines.

We are rainbow scented, space cadet, all-feeling all-fleshy




And we are struggling. And we need gentle, thoughtful, nurturing.

Yes, even you gavin. Especially the blokes! (No shit, I know – who knew…..)

And we need acknowledgement.

That means – the simplest, smallest action of all. Showing us that you are listening.

“ dat sounds hard. ”
“ i’s sorry to hear dat “
“ ooh dat sux ”
“ u poor fing ”

Well, maybe not the last one. Perhaps that could be construed as a bit condescending. Especially when gavin has pulled the mining truck over to tell bernedette that he’s been having panic attacks. I don’t know what kalgoorlie mining co’s policies are on hugs in the superpits, but I would probably suggest that a hug would suffice.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to tell someone that I’m feeling down and all I’ve really wanted is a pat on the head and a ‘there there’ and all I’ve gotten is a hardcore delivery of suggestions of ways I could go and fix my problem and all I’ve wanted to do is reverse myself into a sinkhole of melted soap mattresses and initiate myself into a tribe of sophisticated duck wizards who would tuck me in and quack me a bedtime story.

Failing that. I have my friends. My acquaintances. Many of which have had a crack at connecting with me, and, unfortunately, it seems like (in the pyramid of petty social conventions), left me with the unnerving impression that I will be a lot better suited to life if I can continue with my only-child training and adapt to be a largely self-soothing, self-serving, self-analysing unit of progress and production who occasionally sees a professional psychologist in secret and deals with my complex emotional affairs in a setting that won’t bend the day of my loved ones out of shape.

don’t you open that trapdoor

because there’s something down there

In conclusion, do you know what my favourite question anyone has ever asked me?

It was about five years ago. It was my friend Bruce in Canberra.

“How’s your depression?”

He said it so casually. It was right up there with ‘did you see the carlton game’ and ‘how’s the tour going’ – I was gobsmacked. Truly taken aback. It was a wonderful moment of feeling shame and elation. Shelation.

“Uh, yeah – it’s okay”

I bought myself some time to conjure articulation in a subconscious Atlantis beneath the sea of deadpan humour.

“I think it’s getting a bit…easier.”

Did I say that? I don’t know. Did I mean it? Possibly not. But I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that Bruce asked his question. And even if I didn’t convince myself with the answer, hearing yourself say a hopeful statement, when prompted, is a song that can keep you company through a week of grey thoughts.

It’s communication. It’s action. It’s the vibe.

bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce almighty

Bruce talked to a depressed person. He just barrelled on in there and talked to me.

I know what you’re thinking. You think you’re going to offend the depressed person. You’re terrified that you’re going to, god forbid, make them worse with your incorrectly placed question. You might say the wrong thing? You might, what’s that word the kids like to use… ‘trigger’ them.

I’ll tell you what’s triggering.


I’ll tell you what’s offensive.


In a garden of night, be the candle we’ve forgotten how to light. 🕯️

Talk to a depressed person today. You don’t even have to know if they are sad, or lonely. Chances are your instincts are already spot on.

For you are the intelligent dreamer – and I trust you to carry the weight of your own lack of practice.

We can do this. We can train ourselves to be better.

We can reach. For the stars. For the truth inside.

For each other.

maxwell the morose party star of fitzroy sez:

“search for the hero inside yourself”

hello there, i just wanted to make the point that depression isn’t something that is with you all the time. It’s not always a fixed state. It’s a broad spectrum. Of course there are people who are experiencing heavy depression as a clinical condition. I would like to think that this advice could apply to everyone, however dark the paints on their particular canvas.

RESOURCES: Amanda FKING Palmer has a self-help book about asking for help, no less.

i is the loneliest letter

Are you feeling lonely? You’re not alone.

*laughs maniacally*

Wow, that’s gallows humour.

I was about to do anything within my power to stop myself from writing this article as I figured it would be career self-harm to advertise potentially stigma-laden, conversationally icky, street-cred sapping factoids such as the inconvenient truth about my present emotional state – but then I remembered I’ve already released the song “ I’m So Lonely ” as The Bedroom Philosopher. Well, when I say released I mean left a CD sitting on a bus shelter in Canberra and slowly tip-toed away with fingers crossed behind my back assuming there would be some miraculous, inevitable groundswell in exponential interest for my niche style of pseudo-earnest comedic folk-rock after some local ANU tastemaker pocketed the diffident second album and rushed home to burn copies for her mates.

In any event, the song pertains to themes of loneliness and doesn’t shy away from naming names and kicking concepts into high gears of truth and revelation – as much as any largely pun-based alt-country song not played to a click-track can.

I think it does an okay job. A fan once wrote it was her favourite as it had “clever lyrics.”
It’s true. It does.

The other memory from the release of this 2008 era song is an unfortunate incident in my sharehouse kitchen. My best mate was crouched down, looking for some plastic bottles for the homebrew ginger beer we were ensconced with. I nudged upon the subject of some of my edgier new material for the forthcoming album Brown & Orange. He did something he was prone to doing every now and then. He ‘called me out’ on my more self-indulgent artistic tendencies. He told it how it was, eye of the tiger / final countdown style, ensuring all terms would be free from any skerrick of uncertainty for the remainder of our days.

“No one cares that you’re lonely.”

To be fair, to my friend’s credit, I’ll now muster every ounce of generosity that my twelve-odd years of distance can afford and extrapolate some context to give you an idea of what he meant by that. I’m compelled to include a sudden thought that he may have actually worded it as “we don’t care that you’re lonely” which isn’t exactly any less harsh.

To him, like several other serious kinda snooty male art friends – The Bedroom Philosopher project was executed by a comedian who happened to play music. To me, it was the other way around. I was a songwriter who took advantage of the fact I could be lyrically amusing, to compensate for any shortcomings in skill while drawing as much attention towards my craft and arming myself with a tractor beam of charisma to win over live audiences in slumped universities and dodgy bar situations.

Please note that when I receorded this song I was still making endearingly naive syntax errors. For example, I actually thought it was ‘euphanism’ for some reason, and committed the error to tape. (If you want to really drill down, I was also corrected for using ‘excrete’ instead of ‘secrete’ on Swan Song when referring to ‘mothers milk’ – in this case the lifegiving fluid my dream partner was producing to nourish our newly sprung swan offspring. as you do. (as you were)

To me, I’m So Lonely was a perfectly good song that did have a bunch of jokes in it already (especially compared to What About Me.) I suppose what threw those closest to me was the eroding line between my in-song persona being serious and (wink-wink) funny. Jeepers, from certain angles a dude could construe I might be l i t e r a l l y trying to convey something quite heavy to the audience – or worse, revealing something deep and personal, trudging along the broken cobbles of thousands of troubadours before me. In this instance it seems I could be interpreted as being in some kind of genuine emotional (*vom*) anguish – the kind that couldn’t possibly be expressed, except via the economical goldrush of three-chords-and-the-troof.

How insipid.

Thing is, it was true. I was doing this. I was writing a song no other musical comedian would go near. Because, well, I wasn’t like any other musical comedians. I wasn’t (in this instance) parodying earnest folk musicians crying woebegotten tales (that would have made more sense and been a bit more above the belt) – no – I was – (for some reason) – genuinely delivering a serious statement, albeit wrapped up in more glib, darkly comic wordplays than I knew what to do with.

The results were, well, at best commendable, on average, confusing and at worst….according to my best friend and comedy partner in crime since we’d bonded at university….kind of…(as far as my interpretation of what his vibe was at the time)…pitiful. Srsly chocoblock with PIT.  

Jus’, Mate. What are ya doing?

“No one cares that you’re lonely.”

By that I’m quite certain he meant: “People only like The Bedroom Philosopher because he’s funny and we come to listen to the jokes and that is what you need to give the people and while it seems that you are trying to circumvent this transactional relationship with an offering of deeply personal, authentic sentiment, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that as a currency it doesn’t really have any value whatsoever compared to the skyrocketing arrow of your predetermined hilarity.”

Gee thanks. I could have gotten that advice from my Nan. How surreal when it comes from those closest to you; fellow edge-meisters and taste balloons with your favourite face drawn on.

The face that sent the stripey shirted indie nerd babes wild in 2007 – the same couldn’t be said for my best mate matt who was all like ‘why so serious?’
As an aside I hung out with Sarah Blasko in 2007 after she sidled up to me at Purple Sneakers – (this was in response to me scuttling up to her and giving her a copy of my album ‘In Bed With my Doona’ backstage at Falls Festival Marion Bay – she was on her way out but was gracious on all fronts. We ended up having a drink and a chat for half an hour and then she went off. I’m glad I didn’t go on about the column I’d written about the big crush I had on her which was published in street press, to which her PR team at the time wrote to say ‘we don’t normally encourage stalking, but we think you’re pretty funny.

This wasn’t the first time we had softly butted heads over my creative philosophy. When my promo photo came out the year before featuring me in a cardigan, western shirt and tie doing a smouldering pout to camera (which I dubbed ‘my best Sarah Blasko impression’) my friend was quietly appalled. ‘How are people going to know you’re a comedy act?’  

You might say my friend was in a conservative place when it came to what my act was. It was funny or it was nothing.

Meanwhile, I was in a psychedelic, experimental, warcraft of wildness, trying to make art that was nothing like my last offering. I wanted my next album to be an over-the-top magical mystery tour. Lots of emotions – angst – self-reflection – trumpets and, well, you know…sitar.

Matt’s ( – oh yeah – there’s his name – and chill out everyone concerned he’s not even the only problematic friend called Matt I had at the time) comment was presented as a piece of constructive criticism about my art. The problem was that as an only child who took most things deeply personally – he had (surely, purposefully, on a subconscious level if not conscious) managed to assemble a verbal fuselage that made it impossible for me to localise it purely as feedback on my songwriting and/or relationship with my audience and not as a general attack on my personality at a most fundamental level that would almost certainly reverberate through several semesters of forthcoming counsellor subroutines.

A shrapnel bomb, delivered like a packed lunch.

There were the ego injuries sustained at the initial point of impact, but, more insidious, was the cryptic, below the radar spread of nano-damage as the loaded sentence slashed its way through the protective shell of my cocoon and nestled its needles amongst the membrane of my supple, unformed wings.

You have the right to remain informed. Any action you choose to make in future of this message shall only reflect directly upon your ability to interpret its core structure as a warning. You present yourself as someone at risk of committing serious damage to your social rapport within the community. Should you continue down this course of wantonly self-aggrandizing, emotionally manipulative time-wasting we will no longer be able to offer you the protection that our goodwill currently affords.
There are very few people who can generate and sustain as much humour as you. To cannibalise this for garden-variety navel-gazing, even if it is presented in a self-knowing or light-hearted way, strikes us as a flagrant violation of the social codes for which much of our affirmation and support for your career is conducted (in the good faith you will abide). How else can we trust that as a performer you have our best interests at heart? How else can we spare you from the wrath of our pass-angst as we try you for the greatest of all Australian blue collar crimes – self pity.

A message from the universal Australian populous to one sole citizen Justin Marcus H

Well, I did what anyone else would in that situation. I took it to heart and quietly stewed for ten years.

I’m kidding – as if for a hyper second I could entertain the notion that any element of this is even remotely transferable. Gadzooks, it seems I had shimmied, crab-walked, tip-toed and side-swiped my way into an absolute evolutionary cross-roads for the artistic and personal development of myself as a whole.


I was 28. I was Saturn returns.

I was 20 years overdue counselling. I was heavily in debt.

I was unstable. I was growing darker by the month. I was drifting as an artist. I was wobbling as a boyfriend. Crucially, most emasculatingly, it appeared that in the petty court of sharehouse kitchens, I was now tanking as a bloke. Alienating my fellow Aussie larrikins with my sheer-bloody-minded outlook, deference and resolve.

I went on to record I’m So Lonely. (Part of the I’m So quadrilogy: post modern, over girls & hungover). Look it up. Borrow it from Blockbuster on laser disc.

I’m So Lonely gained positive comment among some serious music journalists. It felt like a comforting addition to my newfound repositioning from comedy rooms to music venues. But how the song was received by industry isn’t really the point, is it reader?

The point is…sharp.

A needle – not of the knitting variety.


I know loneliness. I feel it in the ashes of my past lives.

I can be lonely in a crowd – I can by lonely on my own.

I can be lonely in a relationship.

Now I sound like a cancelled Dr Seuss.

Loneliness doesn’t discriminate based on how well you are doing or how talented you are. Amazingly, neither is it particularly concerned with how many people you have around. (Or is that melancholy? I get them mixed up.)

It’s just, well, there. Along with oxygen and water and sun and reality tv and biscuits and time-stretched songs on youtube. Loneliness isn’t a special occasion. It’s not a pamphlet in the doctors waiting room. It isn’t a capital ‘L.’ word. It isn’t any word. Not one in our language. Loneliness doesn’t get said aloud. It isn’t part of conversation. Loneliness is a secret. One you don’t even know you’re keeping

you’ve been keeping it so long.

So whateth the deal?

I’m lo*ely. So wha? ( l o v e l y )

I was lonely then. I’m lovely now. Most of the time it’s comfortable, enough. An itch you scratch with a kind, furious thought. A beautiful familiar longing, as your child self gazes out to sea – transmitting a conversation with the clouds only an ocean can answer.

Is there a crime being committed? Have I trespassed upon any of your personal freedoms? Will my frank admission contribute to shortcomings in your day?

Have I enormously fucked everything up by not only experiencing this foible but also having the deranged audacity to share it with my social peers? Surely I am not already aware that such unsavoury, ungainly, corrupt and corrupting truth-sabre-rattling should be done only under the close supervision of professionals in a secluded setting.

I n c o n c l u s i o n

Loneliness isn’t a world that gets shared often (enough).

It’s a fantastic, desolate, magical mixed bag of thought coma and silent dance.

It’s not a house built with a door. Only an escape slide and a half-roof to park the occasional rocket ship. But it’s there and it’s real and it’s yours to warm your spine on if you wish to nestle for a second in the curvature of my beanbag.

There’s a loneliness epidemic, you know. It’s interesting to see it on the public agenda along with depression and anxiety. It’s like watching your favourite punk bands sign with major labels and have chart-topping hits. I’m not sure if it’s liberating or alienating. Isn’t it ironic? ZOMBIE ZOMBIE ZOMBIE


Brown & Orange is out now in 2009.

shoutout to ratcat