When someone you love has a type of depression, it can be difficult to know what to say to them. Sometimes you can mean well but then upset them without meaning to. As someone who suffers from clinical depression, here's hoping my personal experience can help other people know how to deal with sufferers.
Here is a list of 7 things you should never say to someone suffering from this horrible mental disease, the possible reactions to such statements, and what you should do instead.
1. "You Seem Fine to Me."
Depression isn't something that happens overnight. It can sneak up on the sufferer, becoming bigger and bigger until it feels overwhelming. Depression is a type of "invisible illness" - unlike very obvious sicknesses such as measles, for example, it isn't immediately obvious to everyone else what the sufferer is going through.
A good example of this would be that celebrities who seem happy and friendly turn out to be suffering from depression and nobody seemed to realise it. Robin Williams, Ant McPartlin, Jim Carrey, and Brad Pitt are examples of these.
Saying to a person with depression that they "seem fine" tells them that you don't really care how they feel on the inside because their exterior attitude hasn't affected you in any way. They know how they feel better than you do, and trying to argue otherwise is downright insulting, even if you don't mean it to be.
What to do instead: If you want to get a similar message across, try making it more positive. Try "you're hiding it so well, no one would guess you're struggling so much".
2. "I Know How You Feel."
Everyone is different, and although there are many people in the world who suffer from depression at some point or another, no one really knows how someone else truly feels.
Would you say "I know how you feel" to someone with the flu or chicken pox? No. People feel depression on different levels and intensities, so you can never say you really know how a sufferer is feeling. Saying "yes, me too, I know exactly how you feel" makes it all about you, and doesn't help them at all.
What to do instead: encourage the sufferer to talk about how they feel, if they want to talk. Do not make it about yourself or tell them your experience with depression unless they ask.
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3. "Don't Be So Selfish!"
Being ill is not selfish. Period. Nobody chooses to have depression and reaching out for help should never be scorned. Calling someone selfish for trying to talk about their depression discourages them for looking for help and can ultimately make it worse. If you feel they're talking about their illness too much, it might be a sign to see a doctor or seek further help.
What to do instead: talk about various kinds of treatment. If they've been suffering for longer than several weeks, it is important that they see a professional.
4. "It's All in Your Mind."
This is possibly one of the silliest things you can say to someone suffering from a mental illness, aside from the similar "you're only as miserable as you choose to be". Everything is in your mind. Perception and consciousness rules your entire life, so saying "depression and dark feelings are in your head" is not only incredibly obvious, but a moot point.
People with depression know better than anyone that their bad feelings, sadness, anger, and everything else is in their mind. The trouble is that they can't escape it.
What to do instead: offer sympathy and a listening ear. Sometimes people suffering with depression just need someone to talk to. Don't talk down to them and make them feel bad for being sick.
5. "You Don't Need to Go on Medication."
There is still a lot of stigma towards people who take medication for depression. Seeking help and pills is never a bad thing, and quite a lot of people just need prozac or a similar antidepressant to get by. You wouldn't shame someone with diabetes for taking insulin.
What to do instead: Respect their decision. If it's someone very close to you, offer to accompany them to the doctor and help them talk about their issues. The first few weeks of taking medication can be tough, so be a good friend and be there for them.
6. "What Have YOU Got to be Depressed About?"
Long-term depression is, more often than not, completely internal. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain, sometimes genetic, and not affected by external stimuli. By asking someone with depression what they've got to feel down about, you're showing ignorance to the fact that it's a disease. It isn't a short-term feeling triggered by a bad day or a bad life. The celebrities mentioned earlier, after all, aren't having financial problems.
Depression affects people of all ages, races, financial status, and genders. Asking someone why they're depressed just makes them feel like they're annoying people, might further withdraw, and suffer alone.
What to do instead: by all means, encourage them to talk about their problems. It might be that some big recent event such as a death in the family or large life change that triggered it, but very often, it's an internal illness.
7. "Try and Think About Something Else."
Depression and dark feelings aren't things someone chooses to think about. She doesn't wake up in the morning and decide to brood on counter-productive, negative thinking. Depression is like a heavy weight that you can't push off, tightly holding onto you and slowing down or stopping every aspect of your life.
Telling someone to just be positive and not think about it is like telling someone who has just lost a limb to look away from the wound.
What to do instead: as mentioned earlier, make it about them and help them talk about their problems. Gently encourage them to see the bright side of their situations, but never make them feel bad for being negative. It isn't a choice.
There is still a lot we don't know about this mental illness, and it can be difficult to know what to say without putting your foot in it. Sufferers usually do appreciate that you mean well, but hopefully this article made it clearer why people with depression don't seem to "perk up" at your words. Hopefully, in the future, we can do more to prevent this terrible sickness.
© 2017 Poppy
Poppy (author) from Enoshima, Japan on July 02, 2017:
Thank you for your comment, Denise. I agree that all people will depression are searching for is to be validated and acknowledged, hence why comments like "you seem fine" are harmful.
Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on July 02, 2017:
Theses are great points. I know that I have heard (and probably said) all of them. When we are suffering the most important thing others can do is to acknowledge and validate us. Then we can pick ourselves up and move on.