H☼T Topics – Mental Health Monday: What NOT to Say to Someone Struggling with Depression

Depression is a word that we are all familiar with… but it is also a word that many of us do not understand and is often misused. To those who struggle with depression, this misunderstanding and misuse of this term can feel utterly painful, as it results in many comments that are the opposite of helpful in trying to help restore someone out of a depressive state.

I truly believe that people’s comments often come from a place of love and a desire to help, but some of the comments often given are hurtful and potentially worsen the current situation. I can guarantee you that no one is hoping to be in a state of depression and is purposefully sleeping all day, crying unexpectedly, not showering, not going to work or fulfilling responsibilities… or any other symptoms typical of depression. With this being said, let’s cover what depression really is and then we can discuss what not to say to someone in this state.

Depression is a mental illness that has a set of criteria that need to be met in order to receive a diagnosis. It is NOT just feeling sad or being in a funk. It is not simply a reaction to something sad or tragic that has happened and not something that people can choose to come in and out of. There are actually many different types of diagnoses of depression such as: Major Depressive Disorder, Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia), and Substance/Medication-Induced Depressive Disorder, etc. Each has their own set of criteria. Criteria include somatic and cognitive symptoms that affect someone’s ability to function… aka results in someone being unable to perform their normal life activities. There is a pervasiveness to the presence of sadness, emptiness, irritability, and/or numbness.

Now that we have a working definition and sense of what depression actually is… let’s go into what no to say…

  • “Just snap out of it!”
    If this were possible, any person struggling with depression would do this! I guarantee you that the person would LOVE to just snap out of it; if it were only that easy! There is a chemical component to this illness that takes away someone’s ability to just choose to be happy or move on with their day. Depression is more than just emotion, it is a chemical imbalance in the brain. As these chemicals change (naturally, by utilizing exercise, by food, or medication, etc), there can be improvements I or regressions in a person’s mood… but this does not just happen because someone wills it. When you say this to someone, you risk causing them to feel as though they are doing this on purpose and they are at fault for their mental state. #GuiltTrip
  • Why don’t you just go do [insert task/activity here]?”
    Depression does not take away someone’s awareness of what they “should” be doing. Telling someone to tend to the tasks of everyday life is not something they need to hear from you. They are well aware that they are neglecting different areas of their life and have probably been beating themselves up for it.
  • “Everything is fine, I don’t get what you have to be upset about? You have such a good life.”
    To this person, everything is not fine. In the midst of depression, the positive aspects of people’s lives are not forgotten. There is often keen awareness of those positive things, which can further cause guilt because they know feeling depressed in the midst of all their blessings is the wrong response to have.
  • “I remember when I felt depressed about…”
    Depression and feeling depressive are two totally different things! Telling a story about how you felt when your grandma died, when you lost your job, or had to downsize your house are not going to be helpful in this situation. Depressive feelings are completely normal reactions to have to such life experiences. And while your feelings during that time were very real and very hurtful, they were not examples of clinical depression. If you have never been diagnosed with clinical depression, telling someone you know how they feel is not going to be helpful.
  • “I don’t know what to do with you… You are bringing me down… You are a real drag… So what am I supposed to do now… I guess I just have to do everything.”
    While these are completely normal reactions and thoughts when doing life with someone struggling with depression, they are certainly not helpful to say. These may seem obvious to point out, but we still say them! Walking the road of depression with someone is not easy and it can put a damper on your own mood. But this just goes along with the old saying, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
  • “You don’t need medication for that.”
    Unless you have gone to school for psychiatry… you have no business commenting on someone’s medical needs. This could be a whole post in and of itself… in fact… I did one! Check it out for more information.
  • *For Christians* “You just need to trust God more” or “Is there some sin you are hiding?”
    Would you tell someone with diabetes that they just need to trust God more for their diabetes to be healed? Would you ask someone with cancer if there was a sin they were hiding and so that is why they were given their illness? OF COURSE NOT. For some reason we have a hard time accepting illness when it deals with the brain. We all need to trust God more and we all have sin. We all struggle in different areas. Someone struggling with depression is not uniquely sinful. By saying these things, you are insinuating that the person is being willfully defiant… again… depression is not something anyone would choose for themselves.

I hope this provides you some insight into depression and ways to not add more burdens to someone in the midst of their struggle. As I was writing this, I realized that there is now a need to cover what TO say to someone struggling with depression! Looks like a have a new topic lined up for a future date. Please comment below on your reactions to these points and feel free to add any others that I missed. Also, if you would like to add some helpful things to say, feel free! May this enhance your ability to walk the road of depression with someone you love.

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