10 Things You Should Never Say to a Depressed Person
More and more people are struggling with clinical depression. If you have never suffered from mental illness, it may be difficult for you to completely understand what it is like. But instead of blurting out what seems like rational advice to someone with depression, try to take a moment to consider the depths of their despair and the effects of your speech. Words have power.
1. "Cheer up." When you say a phrase like this, you are equating a dip in mood with an all-consuming, insidious illness. Having depression is different than having a bad day. We can all bounce back from a bad day. A person with depression may need treatment for weeks, months, or years before they feel well again. Do not make light of a serious affliction. Instead, validate their feelings by saying "I know it might take time to feel better, but there is hope."
2. "This too shall pass." Maybe. But when you are depressed, it surely does not feel like it will pass. When a person is in the midst of a mental crisis, they often cannot see a light at the end of the tunnel. Depression feels relentless and never-ending. When you try each day to feel better and relief does not come, you begin to lose hope. By telling them their sadness will pass, you are diminishing the seriousness and helplessness they feel. You are minimizing their plight. Instead, let them know that no matter how long they are suffering, you will be there for them. You can have more of an impact than you know by making a person feel less alone.
3. "What do you have to be depressed about?" A person might have a terrific job, a nice home, a beautiful family, and many friends. But depression does not discriminate. All kinds of people are vulnerable to clinical depression. Just because things seem terrific on the surface of their life, does not mean that they are not hurting. Open your mind to the possibility that everything is not as rosy as it seems.
4. "You're being so dramatic." In truth, the behavior of a depressed person might not even begin to reveal the extent of pain that they are suffering. There is no set of rules for how a person should behave when they are consumed with sorrow. Instead of judging their behavior, realize that mental illness is a ruthless and formidable opponent. Have compassion.
5. "It's all in your head." Well, yes. Kind of. Depression is a mental illness. And the mind is just as much a part of the human body as the heart or lungs. Illness in any part of the body is equally legitimate. You would never suggest that a person with diabetes or cancer can simply think their way healthy. So do not make the mistake of thinking that a depressed person can.
6. "You don't look depressed." Really? What does depression look like? While it is true that some people stop caring for themselves physically due to serious depression, it is also true that people can appear completely healthy. Depression affects people differently. People with depression can sometimes function in a seemingly normal way. They might take care of themselves, go to work, and even smile or laugh. This does not mean that they are not experiencing internal anguish.
7. "Snap out of it." Oh, if only they could. Do not make the mistake of thinking that a person can simply choose to turn off their depression. If they could, they would. Nobody wants to feel the debilitating sorrow that accompanies depression. It is not a pleasant feeling. It may take counseling, medication, and months of healing before a depressed person feels relief. Instead of suggesting that they turn it off, let them know that you understand that they do not have this power. Understanding is a rare gift to someone who is struggling.
8. "It could be worse." Depression skews a person's world view. Logically, they know that things could be worse. They could be suffering torture or enduring homelessness. However, when people are depressed, knowing that it could be worse does nothing to ease their pain. Their mind can be consumed by thoughts of loneliness, being misunderstood, and unimaginable emotional turmoil. These feelings can make a person physically ill. Highlighting the fact that people are starving in foreign countries will do nothing to soothe the pain of someone with depression. Instead, be sure they know that you take their suffering seriously.
9. "Don't be selfish." Those with depression may seem like they are only focused on themselves. The truth is that depression can consume a person's thoughts and actions. When people are overtaken by feelings of hopelessness, it is difficult for them to see beyond their own pain. This does not make them selfish. It makes them hurting human beings. By calling them selfish, you are adding to the guilt and shame that accompany feelings of worthlessness and isolation. Instead, suggest that they take care of themselves. Offer to give them a break by babysitting for them or bringing them groceries. Help them practice self-care, such as getting a massage or meeting with a therapist.
10. "You think YOU have it bad." Do not minimize the pain someone is going through by suggesting that you have it worse than they do. You cannot possibly know what is going on inside someone else's mind. By stating that you somehow have it worse than they do, you are completely devaluing the seriousness of their condition. Instead, tell them that you cannot begin to imagine what they are going through - which is, in fact, true. Just be there for them and listen. People with depression do not expect you to solve their problems. They just want to be heard and understood.
It is difficult to know what to say to a friend who is suffering. If you are at a loss for words, simply tell them that you do not know what to say. Most importantly, do not judge them. Do your best to let them know you will be there for them, and that they are not alone.
If you or someone you know are suffering from depression, we are happy to hear how we may be able to help. Please call us at 719-505-4404, we look forward to talking with you!