Lots of people experience depression, while others just have bad days or feel sad, moody or low from time to time. Offering emotional support to a depressed person, whether their a friend or a loved one, can be an essential part of the healing process. But it’s often difficult to find the right words to say when comforting someone in their struggle. Sometimes the most well-intentioned remarks and gestures may end up causing more harm than good. And even neutral words can be misconstrued, as sufferers are in a vulnerable, sensitive place. Here are 10 unhelpful things to avoid saying to someone with depression:
“I know how you feel.”
No, you don’t. There is no way for us to really know what another is feeling. Even if you have experienced depression yourself and may have an understanding, the truth is that no two people or two situations are ever exactly the same. Everyone has a different lens from which they view and interpret the world.
People feel uncomfortable with emotions like sadness and depression. So, in order to alleviate their own discomfort and feelings of helplessness, they make statements like this in attempt to “move” the other person into a place of happiness and positivity. This can feel invalidating to the receiver, because you’re essentially saying, “What you are feeling is wrong or bad. Change.” If your loved one could ‘cheer up’, they would have done so already.
“Things could be worse.”
Of course they could. For every single one of us, things could always be worse. You lost your job? Well, so-and-so lost her job AND her entire family in a plane crash AND was diagnosed with cancer. So, you shouldn’t feel so bad! Well, just because it could be worse, doesn’t mean that someone’s pain and hurt doesn’t feel raw and real to them in the moment. Sure, things could be worse…but they could also be better.
“You just need to get out more/meet the right person/find a new hobby…”
This is a big one. Folks with mental illness are constantly being bombarded with advice from their loved ones. While it is almost always well-intentioned, the fact is that giving people opinions on how to deal with what they’re feeling and what they “need” to do isn’t helpful. Advice is not usually what people want.
“God never gives you more than you can handle.”
If you’re a religious person, these words may be comforting to hear. For everyone else, however, it’s an all too often heard cliché that can feel insulting and dismissive. It essentially implies that the reason God has dumped the pain and heartache of depression onto your lap is because he believes you are strong and can handle it. And yet, every year nearly 40,000 people in the United States say, “No, this is WAY more than I can handle”, and then take their own lives.
“Think positive thoughts.”
This suggests that people can simply “think themselves happy”. But it can be challenging to find those happy thoughts when your brain is telling you that life is miserable and not worth living. Each time negative thoughts flood your mind, you try to replace them with positive ones, but the negative thoughts are too overpowering—and it can feel like you’re fighting a losing battle.
“You’ll be fine.”
Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. But people with depression won’t feel any better just because you’re assuring them that everything will all be okay in the end. Can you guarantee they will be fine? Statements like this can feel dismissive and sends a message that you aren’t interested in listening to your loved one. As cliché as it may sound, it really is okay to not be okay sometimes.
“You have so much to be thankful for/live for.”
People suffering from depression are not ungrateful. They are well aware of the good things they have in their life. And if we’ve learned anything from the shocking and untimely deaths of celebrities like Kurt Cobain and Robin Williams, it’s that fortune, fame, success, and the adoration of millions of fans is not enough to cure depression. Mental illness knows no boundaries.
“Let’s go out, grab a drink, and forget about it.”
Suggesting that someone with depression have a drink is not a good idea. Alcohol is a depressant, so it can and often does worsen the symptoms of depression. And a night out on the town will not cure someone’s depression. Depression isn’t just a bad day. It’s a hundred bad days, all at once, with no clear way out.
“Just take medication.”
Not everyone with mental illness improves by taking pills, and even when they do, the decision to take medication isn’t always an easy one. There are several things to consider, like risks, effectiveness, undesirable side effects, and cost. Some folks prefer natural remedies. While others prefer talk therapy only. People have the right to choose whether or not to take medication, and forcing someone into a prescription cure will likely result in the other person feeling resentful.
Now that you’ve read my list of what NOT to say, stay tuned for a follow up post with suggestions of helpful things to say in supporting someone with depression.
Click here for more information on Depression Treatment.