Depression is more than simply “feeling sad” or being upset. Rather, depression is a serious mental illness that impacts more than 15 million American adults. With early intervention, diagnosis, and access to effective treatment, many individuals with depression can improve and enjoy meaningful lives. However, if untreated, depression can have devastating consequences for both individuals who are struggling and their loved ones.
Unfortunately, depression is often misunderstood, and it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is struggling. The following are four things that you should never say to someone who is struggling with depression.
1. You really need to just “snap of out it.”
Telling someone with depression to just “snap out of it” is akin to telling someone with a broken leg to “just walk.” Having a mental illness is not a choice. No one would choose to feel paralyzing levels of depression, and if the person was able to control their symptoms of depression, they would. Telling someone to “snap out of it” is highly invalidating to the person who is struggling and insinuates that they are deciding to suffer from depression.
Instead, try asking the person what you can do to support them. If the person is struggling with coming up with ideas, you could suggest that they engage in activities with you that they used to enjoy. While they might not “feel like it,” engaging in these activities could help to boost their mood and reduce their sense of isolation.
2. There are other people who have it worse off than you.
While this statement is often an attempt to help the person with depression to feel better, it typically has the opposite effect. Depression is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While someone’s depression could be triggered by an external event, often there may be no known external trigger.
Additionally, this statement invalidates the person’s feelings and might cause them to feel guilt and shame surrounding their depression. Instead, you can express to the person that you are here to support them as best that you can. You might also choose to validate the person’s feelings by saying something like, “It seems like you are in a lot of pain right now and are really struggling. I want you to know that I’m always here for you and you don’t have to go through this alone.”
3. Happiness is a choice.
While well-intentioned, this statement also insinuates that the person is choosing to experience depression. Additionally, if simply “choosing to be happy” was the cure for depression there would be no need for treatment centers, therapists, and medication. Depression is a serious mental illness that in part stems from chemical imbalances in the brain. A person who is struggling with depression does not need a motivational speech on making “the choice to be happy” ― rather, they need access to proper treatment and support.
Instead, express to the person that it is so important for them to get help and support from trained professionals. You can also express that you know that they aren’t choosing to feel this way and you are here to support them in any way that you can.
4. But you don’t look depressed.
There is simply no way to tell if someone is struggling with depression based upon their external appearance. Some people have learned how to mask their depression under the guise of smiling pictures and pronouncements about their accomplishments.
When someone shares with you that they are suffering from depression, it is critical that you take their concerns seriously. Instead of making judgments, validate their feelings and express that you are here to support them.
The Bottom Line
By avoiding the use of stigmatizing statements and approaching those struggling with compassion, you can help to eradicate some of the shame that is often associated with having a mental health diagnosis. Studies show that shame and fear of judgment is one reason that people with mental illnesses often avoid seeking treatment. This is why providing support and compassion to someone who is struggling with depression is so crucial.
Heather Rayne, a blogger, summed it up best when she stated:
Living with depression can feel like constantly trying to climb out of a deep, muddy hole with an armful of sandbags. Everything seems so much more difficult ― even getting out of bed in the morning can be a monumental feat. The simplest tasks can be a dreaded challenge. Nobody wants to feel this way. And they are not doing this TO anyone. It is happening TO them and sadly, others are caught in the crossfire. But eventually the bullets will stop flying, the smoke will clear and blissful, fulfilling lives and relationships could appear just beyond the horizon. Together, it can be reached.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer has a private practice specializing in working with adolescents and adults struggling with eating disorders (including binge eating disorder, anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and OSFED), body image issues, anxiety, and survivors of trauma. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD. Jennifer offers eating disorder recovery coaching via phone/Skype. Connect with Jennifer through her website at www.jenniferrollin.com