10 things NOT to say to someone who is depressed

Have you ever wondered what not to say to someone who’s depressed?

There are things you should never say to someone who is depressed.
ReTen things not to say to someone who’s depressed — Image by Istock.com

Have you ever said something to a sibling or a pal who’s depressed and instantly regretted it? You might have said “Why are you depressed? You’ve got a great job, a lovely family and lots of friends.” Or, “There’s people worse of than you and they’re not depressed.” You might have noticed the withering glare they gave you in response or the gulp they took to stop themselves from crying. You might even have been on the receiving end of the torrent of abuse your pal threw at you for not understanding? Ever wondered about what not to say, and why?

10 Things definitely not to say to someone who’s depressed (+1 Bonus)

Colour image of two friends passing each other by, one trying to ignore the other who's waving
Avoiding a friend, not knowing what to say — Image by Dreamstime.com
  1. How are you? — if you don’t have time to listen to their answer. How often have you had someone ask that same question as they rush on by, not waiting for an answer? If you must say something, or if you want to acknowledge that person as you rush on by, make a statement, not a question. Say something like ‘Good morning, nice to see you.” or “Evening, I like your hair/dress/your outfit etc.
  2. You look well or Well, you look alright/fine to me. Perhaps they do on the outside, but on the inside, they might be feeling suicidal. And your comment just might come across as judgemental or insincere. I experienced depression and anxiety first hand. Every time someone told me I look well, I just wanted to punch them. It was like “Why don’t you ask me how I am instead of making stupid comments.”
  3. What have you got to be depressed about? You’ve got a good job, husband, a lovely home and a posh car. A person can have all these things but still be depressed. Depression can occur for a variety of reasons and it has many different triggers. Also, they might give you a big long list of why they’re depressed – what will you do with that information?

Be extra careful if you think someone who is depressed might be suicidal

  1. If someone is suicidal don’t say What about your children/husband or pets? Unfortunately, this doesn’t work, you might add to the guilt they already feel, and it won’t necessarily stop them. If a person is feeling suicidal you might want to ask if they have a plan, how will they kill themselves, do they have the means i.e. gun, knife, tablets, when will they do it i.e. is there an anniversary/birthday coming up? Asking these questions does not make a person feel suicidal. Asking them shows you care, and that you are taking their concerns seriously.
  2. There are people way worse off than you. Oh,add to the guilt trip why don’t you? Anyway, do you really think they care who’s worse off than them? I know I didn’t! I was in such a deep and dark place, I couldn’t think about anyone else. Selfish maybe, but true.

Don’t tell someone who is depressed what or how they feel

  1. Just think happy thoughts or you need to snap out of this. While practising positive thinking is known to be beneficial, it’s not enough to cure someone of depression. If this was so easy, we’d have nobody with mental health problems. You might want to say something like “I’m here if you want to talk.” or “What can I do to help?” It could be something simple like doing the dishes, making them a cup of tea or a light lunch if they’re not eating. Maybe they need help in seeking professional support and you can make some calls for them.
  2. It can’t be that bad. It obviously is for that person. Minimizing the pain of another person is not helpful and, for people who are dealing with depression, can be hurtful and harmful. However much you think think you are empathising, you can never know for sure how it feels to be them. You could tell them “I can’t possibly know how or what you’re feeling, but you could tell me and I’ll listen.” You might choose to say “Do you want to tell me about it?” or you could stay silent for a moment, just being with the person often helps.

Don’t sound belittling or dismissive

  1. It’s all in your head. This sounds dismissive at best and at worst it could sound like the person is making it all up or that they’re ‘mad’. My ex loved this one! “It’s all in your head, you nutter.” How I could have swung for him, if I had the energy.
  2. Cheer up! Your well-meaning “cheer up” might sound cheerful and supportive to you, but this oversimplifies the feelings of sadness that go with depression. People living with depression cannot just decide to feel happier. If I had a £ for every time someone said it to me………… If every person in the world decided to be happy, there would be no such thing as mental illness. Or maybe there would. People might then strive to be happier than their pal, siblings, neighbours or colleague, and if they don’t achieve it…………

Avoid the guilt trip…

  1. It’s always about you. Being preoccupied with problems in life is normal if depressed. This is normal under the circumstances and does not mean they are being selfish. The pressure to explain or justify why they feel this way can make depression worse and stop them asking for help.
  2. Maybe you should take a Prozac. SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Paxil (paroxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine) and other anti-depressants are commonly prescribed by psychiatriststo help patients deal with depression.However, never encourage anyone to self medicate.

One last thought

This girl is depressed - keep your opinions to yourself!
Don’t give unsolicited advice — Image by Polina Zimmerman at Pexels

Don’t go off on a tangent. When someone is depressed they don’t want to hear about your Aunt Mary’s neighbour’s partner’s son who has cured himself with camomile tea or he had ECT…….

And however well-meaning, do not give unsolicited advice, as it might be the wrong advice. What you can do is give them information such as where to get professional help or the telephone numbers and online sites where she can seek support.

Over to you

What do you think about depression?

Okay, your turn. What wouldn’t you want someone to say to you when you’re depressed. I’m looking forward to your comments on this one cos I’m sure there’s been times when you’ve just thought — really? or why would you say that? I’m also happy to answer any questions.

Related: Dealing with depression (1). Depression – What happens when you feel better (2).

Author: mentalhealth360.uk

Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.

32 thoughts on “10 things NOT to say to someone who is depressed”

  1. I feel like the phrase ‘get over it’ is used in far too many scenarios including when a depressed person finds the courage to speak up. I’m not talking from personal experience but I know that a friend of mine found this to be one of the worst things that he heard whenever he would speak of something troubling him. As you say, it’s not minor for the person that is suffering.

  2. ‘You don’t look depressed’ Well thank God! I feel shitty on the inside, do you want my hair and make up to go with it? (that’s what I thought every time). It just p*sses me off!

  3. Agree with every item! I don’t know if this falls under depression comments specifically but anything in the vein of “You’re okay/It’s okay/Everything’s okay” is super disheartening to me, even when meant well.

    1. Yep, we’ve heard them said too. And I think most people are well-meaning, they just need to think on. You wouldn’t say “It’s okay” if your friend just broke their leg!

  4. The worst thing I’ve ever heard, although I heard this as someone making a general statement, not as a response to anything I said about myself, was “Real Christians don’t get depressed, because God moves your mind to a better state.”

    1. Real Christians probably wouldn’t make a comment like that. There are depressed people in the bible. Job, David, Elijah.

  5. I’ve heard others have it harder so many times and it really sucks. It’s like being told your feelings and pain isn’t valid just because someone has it worse. I agree that people probably do have it worse but everyone’s pain is valid and it’s not right to dismiss it.
    Really great post!

    1. Thanks Pooja, I know right? It’s not a competition to see who hurts the most or how much you hurt. My pain is just as valid as that guy over there, who’s just broken his leg! In my previous depressed states, I might have thought “Well, at least his will heal within 5-6 weeks.”

      1. Yeah I used to think like that too when I was struggling. And it feels even worse when someone tells you that when you’re in the middle of everything.

  6. Spot on. I wonder, would you write similar ones for other conditions like ocd and ptsd? I would love to read them!
    P.s I did the blog award thing 🙂

  7. Great post! Thank you for sharing. It’s so strange for people to not show empathy and treat it as a joke when all they need to do is show some concern. Great job! 🌸

  8. I have no idea. I have come across such people who are so insensitive about mental health, it saddens me to think about the state of affairs.

  9. So many cringers on here! 😬 That’s helpful to know that trying to guilt someone out of suicide isn’t as helpful as asking about their plans. So many talk-down scenes from TV shows use that, despite the fact that even on the shows that doesn’t necessarily work. We need better models for how to support people dealing with suicidal ideation.

    1. Cringers 😬 Lol. Yes, talking someone out of suicide isn’t easy. And unfortunately, I saw too many deaths by suicide while working as a mh nurse. It never gets any easier.

      Because of the various skills and knowledge I had as a mental health nurse, I got given the most complex patients. Sometimes I got patients telling they wanted to kill themselves, and soon.

      It was my job to ask some serious questions like when will you do it? They might say “in the next few days” so I’d get them chatting, asking about the wedding (for example) they’re going to at the end of the month, have they got their outfit, are they looking forward to it. They might respond with yes, I can’t wait.

      Ha! For me then, they weren’t about to kill themselves cos they can’t wait to wear the expensive outfit they bought!

      It was never easy but by asking open ended questions, you might get an idea of how serious they are.

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