Have you ever wondered what not to say to someone who’s depressed?
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)
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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…
- 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.
- 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
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
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).