Depression is a common mental illness. Experts believe that around 20% of adults experience at least one episode at some point in their lives.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just the symptoms of depression that make a sufferer’s life difficult.
Not only do people with depression have to contend with psychological and physical problems, but they often come up against well-meaning but unhelpful “advice” from those around them.
If you know someone with depression, you may be wondering how best to support them without causing offense.
Here are a few things you should definitely not say:
1. “Snap out of it.”
Depression isn’t a choice, and neither is it simply a bad mood.
A depressed person is battling a mental illness. Just as you wouldn’t expect someone with the flu to recover through willpower alone, it’s unrealistic to expect someone to stop being depressed just because you tell them to feel better.
No one enjoys depression. If recovery really were as simple as deciding to “get over it,” there wouldn’t be many depressed people around!
2. “There are people who have it so much worse than you.”
If you have never experienced depression, it can be hard to understand why someone who seems to have a good life can feel so low.
Remember, depression is an illness – it can affect people of all backgrounds.
Pointing out that some people don’t even have enough food to eat or a bed to sleep in isn’t going to help.
In fact, depressed people are painfully aware of their blessings, and wish they could enjoy what they have.
3. “Have you tried yoga/exercise/another activity?”
It’s true that exercise can help people with mild to moderate depression feel better.
However, this doesn’t mean that you should offer a depressed person unsolicited advice.
Telling them to try a new sport or exercise may seem like a good idea, but it often comes across as patronizing and simplistic.
What’s more, depressed people often struggle to make it through the day or even to get out of bed, so it’s unlikely that they are suddenly going to find the motivation to get up and go for a jog.
4. “Are you sure you really need to be taking medication?”
Despite the fact that many people with mental illnesses take medication, there is still stigma attached to antidepressants.
If someone with depression is taking medication, it’s best to assume that they are following their doctor’s advice.
It isn’t your place to butt in and make them feel ashamed for treating their medical condition.
5. “But you seem to be coping just fine at work/school!”
Don’t assume that you always tell when someone is depressed.
Many people put on a convincing act when they are at work or school, but then crumble when they get home.
Others put on a brave face when dealing with friends but feel desperately alone and empty inside.
6. “We all get sad from time to time, it’s no big deal.”
There is a huge difference between a sad mood and depression.
Normal sadness is usually the result of a negative event, such as the loss of a job or a death in the family.
Sadness can last a long time, but a sad person can still find a sense of meaning in life and can be distracted by uplifting moments and good times with others.
On the other hand, depressed people find it hard to enjoy anything.
Even when their lives seem great from the outside, they still feel depressed most days.
7. “You won’t make friends unless you cheer up.”
It’s true that people who stay positive are more likely to make friends and get dates than depressed people, but this is an extremely unhelpful thing to say to someone in psychological turmoil.
Someone with depression is fully aware that other people find it hard to handle their condition, but they can’t just choose to get better overnight.
What’s more, lots of depressed people have little or no motivation to socialize anyway, so expanding their circle of friends isn’t often their top priority.
8. “You’re just self-obsessed.”
Depressed people often prefer to withdraw from others.
They also spend a lot of time ruminating on their problems, faults, and past mistakes.
Does this make them self-obsessed?
No – at least, not in a vain or conceited way.
They are caught up in a web of dark thoughts, which can border on obsession, but it’s a common symptom of depression rather than a character flaw.
9. “Have you tried positive thinking?”
Telling someone with depression to “think positive” is like telling someone with a broken leg to “just start walking.”
It simply isn’t going to work.
Depression, by its very nature, entails negative thought patterns that are highly resistant to change.
10. “You probably just need to keep yourself busy.”
Some people find that if they fill up their schedule, they can experience some relief from the invasive, negative thoughts that accompany depression.
However, the majority find that no matter what they do, their depressive thoughts and feelings still rise to the surface.
What’s more, lots of depressed people are so demotivated that getting out of the house in the first place presents a big challenge.
Don’t be afraid to talk to someone about their depression.
After all, most of us are happy to discuss physical illness, so why should it be any different for mental health problems?
If in doubt, simply offer to listen.
They don’t want or need you to suggest remedies.
You aren’t a doctor or therapist, so don’t try to act like one!
The best gift you can give is to validate their experiences and ask them what you can do to help.