Many of you probably have experienced that awkward moment when your friend confesses to have depression… How to help a depressed person, when you have no idea what to say and what to avoid saying? I decided to write this guide on things not to say to a depressed person to help those of you who want to support a friend or a relative suffering from depression, but don’t know how to do it. I assume you all have good intentions and I don’t blame mentally healthy people for not understanding us. Depression is something completely irrational, and often we don’t even understand ourselves.
People with depression are sick of hearing these cliches. If I got $1 every time somebody tells me one of these things, I would already be rich enough to quit my depressing job right away.
My Top 16 Things Not To Say To A Depressed Person
1. It’s only in your head.
If not there, where else would it be? Depression is a mental illness. Nobody chooses to have a disease. But, believe it or not, it’s not ONLY in my head, it’s in my entire body. Especially when I get stressed, I can feel it in my stomach, in my chest, in my back. Many symptoms of depression are actually somatic – all those strange pains that have no other medical explanation may be a sign of depression.
2. Don’t exaggerate
Depression involves a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes I burst out crying when moved by a commercial ad. Sometimes I feel completely indifferent to whatever is going on, like a zombie. When you say that I exaggerate, you belittle my problems. You may have a different perspective, but don’t judge me for my feelings.
3. This is no place and time for your depression.
This one really hurts, especially when said by my boss or my boyfriend who doesn’t notice how much effort I am making to just survive till the end of the day. I haven’t chosen to have depression, and such statements make me feel even more depressed.
4. Get a grip on yourself.
Seriously, if it was so easy I would have done that a long time ago and not be depressed. Depression is about not being able to get a grip on yourself. Everyday tasks piling up are too overwhelming. For some people even getting out of bed is a problem, and you shouldn’t blame them for it. With a help of a therapist, getting grip on myself may take a year or five. There is no quick fix for depression.
5. Why don’t you start exercising?
I do exercise on a daily basis despite of my depression. Mainly bouldering, cycling, fitness, and running. Sometimes I just go for a walk to the nearest forest. It kept depression away from me for two years, but one day it just stopped working as a stress reliever. Exercise isn’t enough to overcome depression.
6. Go out and meet some people.
Being among people makes me feel even more lonely. I may try that if I have a better day, but who would like to spend time with me if I am not showing enthusiasm? I am tired of pretending that I’m okay and faking smiles. I don’t want to answer all those ‘what is wrong with you’ questions. When I feel miserable, I just stay home to avoid poisoning the world with my attitude.
7. There are other people worse off than you.
According to what you have said, I have no right to feel down. Are we going to measure our emotional pain and compare it now? Hold on, I’ll bring my happiness gauge. Now seriously, I am pretty much aware that there are people who have HIV, people who die of starvation, people with disabilities and other whose life is pretty tough. But others’ misery doesn’t make me happier. Not even a bit. It actually makes me feel more guilty for not being able to appreciate what I have.
8. You clearly have nothing to do. If I spent the whole day doing nothing, I would be depressed too.
Okay, I see, you’re calling me lazy. I may not be the most productive person right now, but struggling with depression is already a great effort I am making. I have plenty of things to do, but I don’t feel motivated to do anything. Being indifferent to things that used to bring you joy is particularly painful. Life becomes pretty much pointless when you feel nothing but despair.
9. I know what you feel like, my life is just as hard.
Oh, dear. Believe me, you have no idea. If you have never suffered from depression yourself, you can’t possibly imagine what it is like not to feel anything but sorrow and constant fatigue, being irritated by every sound, experiencing a sharp decline of your cognitive skills and regretting being born.
10. Do you even want to get better?
Hell, I do! What is that supposed to mean? Do you think it’s my fault that I’m depressed? Accusing me of trying not hard enough to get over depression doesn’t help much. I am already doing my best to recover. But it takes time.
11. Keep smiling!
Or better, “don’t worry be happy”. Yeah, pass me that joint. There is nothing more depressing than forced positive thinking and fake smiles. These only add to my loneliness. I have learnt to be truthful to myself, and I refuse to pretend that I feel great. It’s okay not to be okay.
12. Why can’t you just be happy? Happiness is a choice.
Wishful thinking. And depression is not a choice. It’s a serious condition that deprives you of all joy and satisfaction. It’s hell on Earth. If it was possible to choose not to have depression and be happy, depression wouldn’t exist. And yet it does exist, and affects eve those who have possible reason to be happy: a loving family, enough money, and professional success.
13. You should stop taking those pills.
Excuse me, are you my psychiatrist? I’d rather stick to her advice than to yours on this matter. Medication is a part of the treatment process and it allows me to function on a daily basis by fixing the alteration in brain chemistry. It gives me strength to work on my self growth.
14. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Among all the things not to say to a depressed person, this one is the most harmful and proves your complete ignorance of the topic. Considering that there are millions of people dying from depression every year all around the world, it really hurts to hear such a thing. Depression indeed may be fatal. And often, what doesn’t kill you, makes you mutilated, traumatized, and scarred for life, not necessarily stronger.
15. Have you tried prayer? Jesus can help you.
As far as I know, Jesus didn’t have a PhD in psychiatry, so I doubt it. Taking advantage of somebody’s mental illness to spread your faith is a rather bad idea, and it definitely doesn’t make me feel like you care. A religious person is probably already doing it. Somebody who doesn’t believe in God is not very likely to follow your advice, so keep it for yourself.
16. Nobody have said life would be easy
One of my top things not to say to a depressed person. Honestly, what nobody have said doesn’t matter. All that matters is what you say now. And if you can’t come up with anything better to say, silence will be just as fine.
Okay, with so many things not to say to a depressed person, now you probably wonder if you should say anything at all… To make things easier for you, here is a list of what to say to a person with depression if you really want to show support.
- I can see how much this struggle costs you, and I admire your strength.
- I can come with you, if you need support. Together it will be easier.
- If you need to talk, I just want you to know that I’m always there for you.
- I can’t possibly imagine how tough it must be for you.
- What can I do to make you feel better?
- Depression is curable, one day you will get over it.
- You are not alone in your struggle.
- Would you like me to make you some tea?
… And The Rest Is Silence
So, how to help a depressed person? What should you say to a friend suffering from depression then? Sometimes, you don’t have to say anything. I don’t need your ‘useful’ advice. Platitudes make me feel even more lonely. If you really want to help, just be with me, give me a hug. Let me know that I’m not alone, show me that you care for me. A small gesture tells more than a thousand words.
PS. For more tips on how to help a person with depression, read this post.
PPS. If you have depression yourself, share this post with your friends and spread the word about my blog. We need to make some extra effort and reach out to fight the stigma of mental illness.