5 Things Not to Say to Someone with Depression
By: Meghan Abbott, Public Relations/Events Intern
There are many misconceptions about depression, and because of this, sometimes people with the best intentions make comments that fall flat. In their eagerness to make a person feel better, they say things that can come off as insulting or make the person feel worse. Here are five common phrases that people living with depression hear and why these comments can backfire.
1. “Why are you depressed? You have so many good things in your life.”
You never know what is going on in someone’s life behind closed doors, or what has happened in their past. It is quite possible that this person’s depression stems from a traumatic event. However, this is damaging even if you do know the person well and know all about his/her life because there is not always a situational cause for depression. As a person living with depression, I know very well that logically I should not be depressed; I have a close family, great friends, a roof over my head, etc. Unfortunately, that does not stop a biological illness. These chemical and electrical imbalances in my brain will still be present despite living the "perfect" life.
2. “You need to get off that medication. You’ll feel better.”
I wrote a whole article about this backhanded comment that you can read here. Long story short, you shouldn't assume you know what is best for another person’s mental and physical health. Even if you have had a bad reaction to an antidepressant and are saying this out of concern, it's important to realize that different medications affect people differently. What works for one person may not work for another. Some people thrive on medication, some people don’t. You're not my doctor so please don't presume what is good for me and what isn't.
3. “Have you tried yoga/meditation/exercise…”
Again, different things work for different people. The problem with depression is that it strips away your willpower, energy, drive, and interest. In the midst of a depressive episode, I could not do any of these things even if I wanted to. It also implies that depression is a quick fix, and I could “get over it” if I really wanted to take the correct actions.
4. “Everyone gets depressed sometimes.”
People tend to confuse depression with sadness. To be fair, depression does usually include sadness, but it also boasts a variety of other symptoms such as fatigue, lack of concentration, suicidal thoughts, irritability, mood swings, apathy, hopelessness, social isolation, and more. Sadness is usually a result of a sad or disappointing experience, whereas depression can creep up any time for any reason (or no reason at all). It contains a whole spectrum of emotions that cannot simply be compared to someone being sad.
5. “Happiness is a choice.”
If happiness were a choice, wouldn’t everyone choose it? Why would anyone prefer to suffer when they could feel good? Of all the people that depression harms, it harms the one suffering the most. Telling someone they could choose happiness is blaming them for an illness they did not choose to have.
Try This Instead!
Offer a supportive ear. Ask if they want to talk, but do not force the issue. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just be there with someone. Invite the person to join in fun or distracting activities, even if they continue to turn you down. Offer your support and see what you can do to help, but do not forget to set your own boundaries and take care of yourself as well. You are not responsible for anyone else's mental health but you can be there for loved ones in times of need.