Statements That Can Be Harmful
Everyone is different and needs different things from their support system when they’re struggling. For this reason, there’s really no hard and fast rule for what will make someone feel comforted and supported during a tough time. There are, however, some things you may be tempted to tell your loved one that tend to make things worse for people with depression. It’s important to remember that not every instinct you have is one you should follow.
Many people who don’t understand depression are inclined to say things like “other people have it worse,” or “things aren’t as bad as you think” . Keep in mind that peoples’ feelings are valid, and statements like these make it seem like you think that your loved ones’ feelings are an exception to that rule. If your loved one is feeling depressed, they’re very likely experiencing feelings of guilt along with it the last thing you want to do is make them feel guiltier.
You should also avoid saying things like “just get over it” . Your loved one certainly wishes that alleviating their depression symptoms was as easy as “getting over it,” but it isn’t. Remember that depression is a mental illness, which is different from simply being in a bad mood. You should also make sure that you don’t blow off what your friend is saying just because you don’t know how to respond. Don’t rush through the conversation.
Seeking Shortcuts To Happiness
I grew up watching talk shows. Every weekday afternoon, I listened as guru after self-help guru prescribed the latest shortcut to happiness. I bought all the books and read them late into the night. When their sage wisdom didnt work for me, I was convinced it was because I was somehow broken or defective. Why was happiness so unattainable for me?
It wasnt until I was almost 30, studying mental health as part of a postgraduate degree program in education, that I finally saw depression for what it is: A treatable medical condition.
Pop psychology and self-help books can be entertaining, and may even contain nuggets of wisdom. But getting treatment from qualified professionals is what finally gave me a well-ordered mind and helped me get my life back on track.
It took a lot of talk therapy to get all the messages Id spent years internalizing out of my head. The pop psychology we are surrounded by weaves itself into our cultural beliefs about depression and lends itself to unhelpful myths about what people with depression need to hear.
How And When To Talk
No single method of communication works for everyone. A person can consider how they usually speak with the individual with depression which method offers the most intimacy and fosters the deepest dialogue?
In a 2017 poll, 86% of respondents said that face-to-face discussions of depression are the best option. However, some people may feel more comfortable texting.
There are some instances where it is not helpful or advisable to talk about mental health issues. Some tips include:
- Do not bring up depression during a fight or a time of high stress.
- Do not use depression as a shaming tactic.
- Wait for a time when the person is reasonably calm.
- Do not talk with someone when they are distracted or tired.
- Avoid blindsiding the individual, such as by bringing depression up for the first time in a fight.
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What Not To Say And Why
I know exactly how you feel.Why? Because no one knows exactly how anyone else feels. This is not a helpful way to make someone feel understood when their depression has become overwhelming.
Everyone gets depressed sometimes.Why? Because it sounds dismissive and its not true. Everyone gets sad sometimes or has a bad day. Everyone does not get depressed.
You have no reason to be depressed.Why? Because it can make people feel guilty, ashamed, or like their feelings dont count. Life events can sometimes play a role, but depression often has no specific reason, trigger, or cause.
Hang in there. It will pass.Why? Because its unhelpful and untrue. Chances are, theyve been feeling this way for some time, and it hasnt gotten better and thats why theyre asking for support.
Dont be so negative. Think happy thoughts.Why? Because if it was that simple, depression wouldnt exist. This statement implies that depression is a choice which is false. You cant just will or wish it away.
Im Really Sorry Youre Going Through This And Im Here For You If You Need Me
The fact is, theres no perfect thing to say to someone living with depression. Your words wont cure them. But they can help. Let them know that there is hope.
Reminding someone that youre there for them whenever they need you whether thats in the form of help with a small task or someone to call in a crisis can be so essential to saving a life.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there are three categories of suicide warning signs to look out for:
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People With Depression Are Weak
This is one of the most painful things Ive been told about having depression especially because I wholeheartedly believe it on my bad days. And while its easy to believe this, deep down, I know that Im not weak for having depression.
Heres an important statistic: Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States and affects more than 15 million adults.
When you say that Im weak for having depression, youre also saying that over 15 million other Americans are weak too. But are they weak? And why? For fighting an invisible battle that often gets worse before it gets better?
Although my struggles with depression make me feel weak at times, I also know that Im a stronger person for going through it. Plus, its helped me find my why through sharing my story and becoming an advocate in the mental health community.
What to say instead: What youre going through isnt easy, but youre so strong. And youre doing the best you can.
Instead Say: I Am Sorry You Are Going Through This I Am Here For You
Acknowledging your friends feelings whatever they may be can help them feel seen.
Depression is painful. You dont need to put a positive spin on depression. Its OK to acknowledge that what your friend is going through is hard.
Pellegrino recommends reflecting back what your friend is telling you with statements like It sounds like you are feeling miserable, or It seems like its been hard to enjoy activities lately. This lets your friend know you are listening and taking what theyre going through seriously.
We have to hold hope for people who are depressed because they cant be hopeful, but if you start with that, theres going to be a gulf between you and theyre going to feel invalidated by that, Pellegrino says.
Once your friend feels understood, you can share that you believe they will pull out of depression, even if they dont feel that way right now. Just remember that having this hope doesnt negate the painful reality your friend is currently experiencing. It helps to hold space for both: the fact that things are hard now and that you believe they will get better.
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What Not To Say: Stop Feeling Sorry For Yourself
There is a HUGE difference in feeling sorry for yourself and struggling with depression. People assume that people with depression dont get better because they enjoy feeling the way they do. Its ridiculous. When people make statements like this, it can downplay the severity of depression. By making someone feel as though theyre feeling sorry for themselves just because theyre not feeling better by the standards to which you judge, it can cause them to feel guilty for something they have no control over. Someone with depression is already having a hard time, so by putting personal blame on them, you can cause an already negative situation to worsen.
Its Ok To Not Feel Ok
Whether your friend or loved one is currently getting treatment or hasnt received a formal diagnosis, its OK if theyre not OK. Everyone has good and bad days. We all deserve some grace.
Sometimes, they might feel shame if theyre experiencing difficult feelings, so it might help to remind them that its OK to feel that way. Making it safe for them to express and sit with their real feelings in your presence can go a long way.
And just because right now is bad doesnt mean later will be.
Have You Tried Exercise
Much like positive thinking, exercise is not a cure for health problems, but rather, merely an action with positive effects on health. Exercise is helpful in providing some mood boosting chemicals to a person, but only if their brain is already mainly healthy. Someone with depression needs medical treatment, much of which does not involve medication, in order to get healthy enough to have energy to exercise.
In place of suggesting exercise as a cure, sympathize that it must be hard to have a condition that zaps your energy and motivation. Validate that this persons condition has a massive effect on what they can accomplish, and new habits will not be enough to overcome it entirely. You can offer to accompany this person regularly for a quick walk or jog without suggesting that exercise is a cure all for their condition.
Things Not To Say To Someone With A Mental Illness
When someone close to you has a mental illness, its hard to know what to say. Here are ten things that are best left unsaid.
If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14. For advice and support contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
When someone close to you has a mental illness, its hard to know what to say and no matter how good your intentions, some suggestions or comments can do more harm than good. Here are ten things we think are best left unsaid, and the reasons why.
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Avoid Unhelpful Or Dismissive Phrases
That said, there are some phrases to avoid in a conversation, such as things will get better or I know how you feel. Anything that implies dismissing, minimizing or invalidating their feelingslike What are you sad about? You have so much to be happy for! or But youre so lucky, you shouldnt feel that waycomes across as insensitive and dismissive. The truth is that depressive feelings can occur regardless of a persons objective successes, good fortune, or other seemingly positive attributes.
While you shouldnt use phrases like I understand how you feel, since thats nearly impossible, another way to show your support for a depressed loved one is to share your own personal experiences of feeling depressed . But theres a delicate balance here: The goal is to expose your own vulnerability without presuming your experiences are identical. People find extraordinary validation in knowing theyre not alone, and that their feelings are more common than they think, Dorfman says.
Everything Will Be Ok Think Happy Thoughts
Dont try to overload the person with positivity, says Yeraz Markerian, Ph.D., director of psychology at Hackensack University Medical Center. This could make them think they dont have a right to feel unhappy. Everyone goes through moments of unhappiness, and some of the time, this is normal. Its much better to empathize with them and let them know the way they feel matters to you. Instead try: I want to be here for you. Do you want to tell me more?
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Don’t Invalidate Their Feelings
If a person with depression opens up to you about what they’re experiencing, it’s critical that you provide a safe, non-judgemental space for them to do so. Some examples of what not to say when someone talks about their depression include:
- “You don’t seem sad”
- “I haven’t noticed a change in your attitude or behavior”
- “It’s all in your head’
- “I’ve dealt with worse”
When you dismiss a person’s depressive feelings, it may signal to them that they shouldn’t open up again, are being dramatic, or are at fault for feeling the way they do.
Instead, Gail Saltz, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, says to remind them of these things:
- Depression is an illness and not their fault
- You are sorry they are experiencing it
- Treatment can help them
- You will help them through this and find treatment
What You Can Say
For a long time, no one really talked about depression at all. Now were working hard to change that and we need to learn how to talk about depression in the right way. You cant help someone with depression in any meaningful way without talking to them about it. Thats why its so important to have the courage to speak up and find your words.
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The Best Things To Say And Ask When Someone’s Depressed
Once youve determined its the right opportunity to approach a friend who might be depressed, youre probably thinking next about what, exactly, to say. But heres where you need to take a step back: You need to go in listening, Bonior says. Its just as important to think about how to listen to them as it is to think about what youre going to say.
What Not To Say: You Have Such A Great Life Why Arent You Happy
Let me first explain that depression is never as simple as feeling the opposite of happiness. Depression is feeling numb and living in a void that you feel youll never escape from. What you do or dont have in life doesnt wave a magic wand over your mental health and make it better. In fact, material objects have zero impact on how you feel when living with depression. You could have all the money in the world, a large group of friends and the perfect job, but you can still feel alone and overwhelmed. Insinuating that someone is ungrateful for the life they have when suffering from something they have no control over is selfish. This may cause your friend or loved one to retreat, and stop sharing with you how they feel.
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You Dont Need Medication Power Through It
Early detection and treatment can work wonders, so trying to power through depression isnt a good idea. The decision whether or not to take medication to treat depression is something to discuss with a physician or specialist.
Often, a combination of counseling and medication can give you a new lease on life. Theres nothing weak about taking medication, and theres nothing strong about denying yourself treatment. Ignoring the symptoms of clinical depression will only make it worse.
What Time Of Day Is Hardest For You
This question may give those who are within your loved ones support circle an idea when to check in.
For example, getting out of bed in the morning and starting the day is most difficult for some people. For others, its coming home in the evening when they may be alone.
Whenever it is, you can use that time frame of when your loved one may feel most vulnerable to send a short text, call them, or invite them out for something low-key, like a walk.
In the event that you have to communicate with a mental health professional for your loved one, youll also have some details for diagnostic criteria to share.
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What Not To Say: What Do You Have To Be Depressed About
When it comes to depression, there isnt always a traumatic or sad event that caused it. For me, I suppressed a lot of emotions growing up, and my parents divorce was the catalyst for my depression. Ive known people to become depressed after a death, and Ive known people to become depressed out of nowhere. Whether or not theres a reason behind your depression doesnt make it any less serious. So questioning why someone is depressed can lead them to feel guilty for how theyre feeling, but the reality is that no one asks to be depressed.
What Not To Do To Someone With Depression
You may feel like it isnt so, but your actions can greatly help someone with depression.
It wont take their symptoms away, but your support can provide them with the hope they may be having a hard time coming up with themselves.
Hopelessness is a common symptom of depression. It may take away their sense of control and direction. This could be confusing for you, too.
You may be at a loss regarding what to do and what not to do, explains Lori Ryland, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Mt. Lauren, New Jersey.
But showing youre there for them can help.
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Dont Shy Away From The Hard Stuff
One question many people avoid, but shouldnt, is asking the person whether theyve thought about hurting themselves. People worry about suicide contagionthe idea that you will plant the idea in someones head by asking about itbut theres no research showing this to be true, Bonior says. If a person does admit to having suicidal feelings, or you have reason to suspect they have based on their actions , you should not leave that person alone. Call for help from a mental health professional or a suicide hotline as soon as possible. Even if they resist it in the moment, its a forgivable act when its with the motivation of being supportive and protective, Dorfman says.