Whether you realize it or not, there are people in your life who are living with depression. If you haven’t experienced depression firsthand, chances are your unfamiliarity with it could cause you to say some pretty insensitive things to someone who is all too familiar. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and review this list of things that are unhelpful to say to someone with depression.
1. “You’d feel better if you just…” Ooh, stop right there. Unless you are the person living with depression, you do not know the correct way to finish that sentence. And, the likelihood is there is no way to correctly finish that sentence.
Depression is not the same thing as fleeting sadness. With fleeting sadness—in other words, the typical ups and downs most people experience throughout the days and weeks—there are things that can help pull us out of our funks. Different mechanisms are at play when someone is dealing with depression. The best way to respond to someone who is sharing their depression experience is to learn about what they’re going through and not give advice based on your experiences, which are different than theirs.
2. “What happened?” It’s a common misconception that depression has a clear beginning and an end, as well as an obvious catalyst. Sometimes it does, but not for everyone. Many people might assume that depression is always a response to a traumatic event that can be easily explained—and, therefore, easily recovered from.
Instead of trying to get to the bottom of “why” someone’s depression began, focus on how you can be a great support in the present. Also, if you are asking purely out of curiosity: don’t. It’s really none of your business.
3. “Keep that stuff to yourself.” Any time you feel the need to silence someone, you really need to ask yourself why. Is it because you don’t know how to help and feel flustered? Is it because things are going well in your life and you don’t want bad news to harsh your mellow? Is it because you equate people sharing their hardships with whining? Any of these explanations only sheds light on the problems you have, not the problems of the person you are silencing.
People who experience depression likely also experience a sense of isolation. Even common feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness tend to prevent folks from reaching out to others for help. Do not reinforce this by suggesting what they have to say isn’t worthy of being said, because it is worthy and so are they.
4. “You don’t need medicine or therapy.” It should go without saying that, unless you are treating someone as a physician or mental health professional, you should not give medical or therapeutic advice—yet, apparently it needs to be said. Just like assuming what people need can be harmful, it can be just as harmful to assume what they don’t need.
Medication and/or therapy isn’t always the best way to help treat someone’s depression, but it certainly is part of the equation for many people. Because the general population doesn’t understand psychiatric care very well, both methods of treatment are also very stigmatized. If you are giving someone advice based on what you’ve seen on a talk show or a horror-suspense movie, stop what you are doing immediately.
5. “I know how you feel. When I got dumped last year…” Stop right there. Nope, nope, nope, you do not know how someone else feels. Empathy allows us to try and connect with the emotions someone is experiencing, but changing the conversation to something you went through is a sign that you’ve bypassed your empathic response and are no longer being helpful.
Some of the best advice out there when talking to someone who has life experiences different than your own is to not jump in and say whatever pops into your head, but to instead listen to what they have to say. This will give you a better understanding of how they are feeling and you can respond more appropriately.
6. “At least you have a roof over your head!” Although you may think you are cheering someone up, this is actually a form of minimizing, so don’t do it. It might come from a deep desire to want a family member or friend to no longer feel hurt or sadness, but we all must understand that depression symptoms are not an easy fix.
By diverting the conversation away from what the person with depression is feeling, you are sending the message that they should feel bad about having depression in the first place. Guilt-trips are no fun under any circumstance, but it is especially cruel to suggest one to a friend who already has a lot on their plate. Instead, listen, reflect and validate how they are feeling, and ask how you can be most supportive.
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