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What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed…

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You Dont Know  Royalty Free Image
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As someone who has both depression and anxiety, there are some things that people say to me that make me want to scream. It’s not their fault that they don’t understand how I feel, and I honestly hope they never do. The problem is that there are a lot of people out there who have depression, and just as many people who have no idea how to talk to someone with depression. To help those of you who are lucky to not suffer like the rest of us, here is a list of phrases to avoid and alternate suggestions to help.

Everyone has bad days. – This is at the top of my “never say this to me” list. Why? Because as someone who suffers daily from depression and anxiety, I don’t have random bad days. It’s actually easier for me to count my good days than my bad ones. It’s true that everyone has bad days, but those who suffer with anxiety and depression have more bad days than good. Instead of saying this, remind them that no matter how many bad days they have, you will always be there.

Try eating healthier. – It’s a well-known fact that eating healthier can lead to lower anxiety and sadness levels. It’s also a well-known fact that comfort food has an impact on the brain, so telling me to put down my Swiss Rolls or give up my lasagna is not going to help me. In fact, you should be encouraging me to eat those foods (in moderation) when I’m down, not discouraging. When I’m feeling down, my husband recognizes it immediately and has a list of comfort foods memorized. Even if I don’t feel like eating, just knowing I have a comfort food nearby to munch on has helped. If the person you are caring for doesn’t want to eat, don’t force them. Instead, gently remind them to snack on something when they are ready.

Go for a walk and get some fresh air. – Why is this one so bad? Well, the person you’re talking to might just tell you to go take a walk…off a short cliff. Understand that sometimes, doing simple things like going to the grocery store for food is painful, so going for a walk is going to be out of the question. Instead, comfort the person and suggest they get up and move around the house. In the past, just having someone there to gently get me up out of bed has made me feel better.

Face of depression  Image: Dakster Sullivan
Face of depression Image: Dakster Sullivan

Do something that makes you happy. – Depression is evil in the fact that it can keep you from enjoying things that normally would make you happy. For me, comic books are something I really enjoy, but when I’m having a depression episode, all the Superman books in the world can’t bring me back up. Yes, there have been times that doing something I enjoy has helped me, but when things are really bad, nothing, not even my precious comic books, will snap me out of it. What can you do? Go about your day and make sure you let the person know you are there for them. Put on a movie or some music that you know they normally do enjoy. When they are back to a happier state of mind, they will welcome the noise.

There are people worse off than you. – This is another one at the top of my “never say this me” list. Why? It’s true that some people out there have it worse than we do, but that doesn’t take away the fact that we feel sad, hopeless, and useless. Our minds are not in a state of reason to recognize that other people are worse off, and thinking about them will more than likely make us worse. Instead of telling us how others have it worse, remind us about the people who love us and the things we have to be happy about. This is a much better approach than bringing more depressing thoughts of other people suffering into our heads.

It’s all in your head. – Thank you Captain Obvious. I hadn’t noticed…ohh wait…that’s the point of depression! The problem is that it is in our heads and we can’t fix it. Instead of saying this, you are better off just not saying anything. Silence is golden.

Why can’t you be happy without taking a pill? – Well, if I could, I wouldn’t be taking them now would I? Antidepressants are not a bad thing or something to be avoided. They’ve helped millions of people regain a sense of control over their lives. For some reason, people are afraid that medication will turn a patient into someone they’re not. Funny how I’ve yet to hear of an anti-depressant that turned an ordinarily boring person into Mr. Popular. Instead of saying this…don’t say anything. Unless you are a medical professional, don’t comment on their decision to take control of their lives and do something about their feelings.

Have you tried meditation or yoga? – If the person you are talking to has social anxiety or depression, there’s really no faster way to get their heart racing than asking them to go out in a social setting. Meditation is something I’ve tried in the past, but regardless of how it calms my nerves at times, it doesn’t help me when my depression is really bad. In fact, sitting alone in my head is the last place I want to be when I’m depressed. As for yoga, that’s a great reducer of depression and anxiety, but when you are in the middle of having a chronic depression bout, this doesn’t do squat.

How long are you going to be like this? – Yes, because we can put a time stamp on our emotions. The truth is that depression isn’t something that happens on a schedule. By asking someone who is depressed how long they plan on being like this, you are more likely to make it worse and last longer than it would have. Instead, remind the person that they’re safe, it won’t last, and they will feel better once it passes.

Why don’t you join us tonight and have some fun? – That sounds great, except for the fact that someone who has depression sometimes doesn’t think they can have fun. Instead of asking them to join you on a night out on the town, how about suggesting a pizza and a movie night in?

Are you sure you aren’t just unhappy in your <insert relationship status>? – When someone is depressed, they aren’t sure of much of anything. Asking them to start evaluating their relationships is a recipe for trouble. They could start to see something that isn’t really there and make decisions they are not 100% mentally capable of making. If you must ask this question, do it when they are not in a depressed state of mind.

Think more positively. – Thank you Sigmund Freud. I will. Oh wait. I can’t…because I’m depressed!! People who are depressed can’t think positively, that’s one of the problems with depression. Instead of telling us to think more positively…just don’t say anything. Sometime silence is more productive.

I know how you feel. – This is another phrase that is like nails on a chalk board with me. Unless you have clinical depression, never say this to someone who does, because you have no idea how they feel. Just having a sad day does not put you in a position to understand how we feel. Instead of saying this, just listen to them. Even if they don’t say anything…be there to listen for when they are ready.

Snap out of it! – This should be self-explanatory at this point in the list. Someone who is depressed can’t just “snap out of it” and stop feeling the way they feel. Instead of saying this, sit with them and remind them you care about them.

Do you have to do this now? – Yes I do. Thank you for asking. I can’t tell you how much easier depression would be if it came with a printed schedule of expected episodes with time duration. Then I could pass it out to everyone and let them know when to leave me alone. Unfortunately it doesn’t, so if someone you know is having a moment at the most inconvenient time for you, think about how inconvenient it is for them to miss out on something they love to be uncontrollably sad.

Let’s go have a drink. That will make you feel better. – This is a big no-no. Why? Alcohol increases depression, not reduces it. Alcohol is one of those things that doctors recommend avoiding when you are depressed, and don’t even get me started if the person is on medication; that’s a trip the ER waiting to happen.

If you act like everything is okay, then it will be okay. – Umm…let me think about this for a minute…no. Acting like I’m okay and pretending my depression didn’t exist landed me in the hospital in high school for threatening to kill myself, so I don’t advise it. No amount of smiling and reciting “I’m okay. I’m happy.” is going to make them feel better. Instead of asking someone to act like everything’s okay, listen to them tell you why everything is not okay, and reassure them of their worth to you.

When in doubt about what to say to someone who is depressed, the best thing to say is nothing. Eeyore put it best in “Eeyore’s Sad Day,” “Maybe you could just sit here beside me. Don’t have to dance. Don’t have to sing. Don’t even have to talk.” Sometimes that’s all we need is someone to sit with us and remind us they are there.

I know it can be hard being there for someone who is depressed, but without you there, they might not be. Remind them of their worth and that, despite their depression, you will always be there for them. Let them know you care for them regardless of the battle they are facing and you are there to help them fight it. And above all, don’t forget to check on them every now and then. Reminding them that you are there if they need you could make the difference between a short drive to their house, or a long drive to a funeral.

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8 thoughts on “What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed…

  1. I finally got onto an antidepressant that works for me in the past two years, and I’ve made sooo much progress since. But it’s kind of a relief to me that I can look at this list and still say “EXACTLY!” It makes me feel like I can truly be there for other people when they’re stuck in their dark holes, that I actually DO know how they feel, still.

    I’ve been into explaining antidepressants to people as being like a life preserver. Without it, all your effort is put into NOT DROWNING– you can’t possibly be expected to SWIM anywhere. Once you HAVE the life raft, you’re still just hanging out in the water, not going anywhere, so THIS is where lifestyle changes like eating well and exercising come in (yoga has been SUCH a blessing for me– but only after the meds had kicked in). But now you’re CAPABLE of making that effort, because you’re not DROWNING anymore.

  2. I’ve heard many of those during my clinical depression days. Plus a lot of “Can’t you just pull yourself together”, which probalby is just an alternate version of most of the above. The worst thing anyone said to me was when I was getting a check-up at the cardiologist. I had told him that I was on antidepressants, and that I suspected them to be responsible for my heart arrythmia (and yes, I still considered them a life raft – great analogy), so he was perfectly aware of my condition. He did an ultrasonic scan of my heart, showed it to me and said “See, that’s your heart. A big black empty hole with no space for anyone to live there.” Which is exactly what a normal heart looks like on such a scan. But that was NOT helpful, thank you so much. Looking back, I would have loved to have had a camera, to take a picture of his face as I burst into tears right in his examination room. I suspect that my condition just made him uncomfortable, and he was trying (and epically failing) to be funny. Which is true for so many people who make these awful statements you listed, but that does not make them much easier to bear.
    Anyway, I hope you’ll get better soon, or in case this is a non-depressive phase, stay well. Not sure if this helps (I certainly didn’t believe it when I was really deeply depressed), but I know from experience it’s possible to overcome depression and to feel again how full of color and lovely people and beauty your heart really is. Because it is. Good luck to you and everyone else suffering from that monster of an illness.

  3. I know it is partially captured in several but “CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY” is an incredibly insulting thing to say to someone – as if they are TRYING to be depressed …

  4. Now if I could only get the loved ones in my life to read this AND not forget the information. I specially hate “but you are smiling/laughing/having fun you can’t be depressed”.*sigh*

  5. Thanks for sending this link to me. As a sufferer of panic disorder, the worst thing someone can say to me is “relax!” Hey, like I didn’t think of that. If that was even slightly possible, I could have avoided my psych ward stay, the 16-20 pills a day I take and the twice a week therapy. When therapists have tried to teach me relaxation techniques, my anxiety level actually doubles. Fortunately, my latest therapist recognizes that and has stopped trying to make me do things her way.

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