Because I’ve been depressed for such a long time (nearly half my life), I’ve heard a lot of “helpful” things that have sent me spiraling even deeper into depression.
While in the midst of mental turmoil, I’ve been given advice that sent my irrational brain even further into despair. I choose to believe that the people who say these things mean to make me feel better about my depression, but it certainly doesn’t work.
There are some things you should definitely, absolutely, positively, not say to someone who’s depressed. I’m not an expert and I can’t speak for everyone, but these are fifteen things that I never want to hear and what I wish I could say in response.
Here are 15 things you say to a depressed person that only makes it worse:
1. “You’re not the only one.”
That’s…great. So you’re telling me that not only is my pain insignificant because others feel it too so I should just get over it, but also there are other people who feel this crappy? That sucks. That really, really sucks. Now I’m sad for myself and sad for other people.
2. “You’re just going through a phase.”
Oh, am I? Just a phase? A phase that’s lasted literally more than 10 years? That’s a freaking long phase. That’s basically my whole life, so my whole life is “just a phase?” Good to know. Thanks so much.
3. “But you have so much to be thankful for.”
Wow, really? I didn’t know. I had no idea that there are good things in my life. I’m definitely not wracked with guilt over the fact that my life on paper is great but I still hate everything. Depression is a disease, guys. It’s not a state of thanklessness and it can’t be cured by throwing my blessings in my face. I know they’re there, in my head at least, but that doesn’t mean they can stop these feelings.
4. “Why are you depressed?”
Honestly? I don’t know. It could be the chemicals in my brain going haywire or bad genes. My depression just sort of happens like an illness because that’s what it is, you know, an illness.
5. “You’re stronger than this.”
Am I, though? Because I don’t feel like it. What I feel is my head growing heavy on my shoulders, my legs trembling, and my spine buckling. I feel my insides collapsing. I feel everything that’s ever held me up disappearing. I feel weak. Maybe I should be strong. Maybe if I were stronger, I wouldn’t be sad.
6. “Just push through it.”
I literally can’t. When I’m depressed, I can barely hold my head upright and it feels like everything is crashing around me and my life is going up in flames. But you, know, I’ll guess I’m trying to just push through.
7. “You just need to pray, read the Bible, and go to church more.”
How’s that working out for your broken leg, huh? Has it spontaneously healed because you went to church? No? I didn’t think so. I do pray, and I do read my Bible, and I do go to church, and I honestly believe that’s why I’m still alive. Period.
8. “If you just had faith this wouldn’t be happening.”
If you think faith equals instant healing, you need to go take a theology class. Ever heard of Paul the Apostle?
9. “Just think positively.”
OK. Positive thinking. I can do that. It’s sunny today. That’s positive. The sun is shining, the sky is blue. Blue. Blue is the color of sorrow. Why is the sky sad? I’m sad. Why am I sad? I shouldn’t be sad — the sun is shining and the sky is blue! But mostly, everything sucks and now I’m even sadder because apparently, the sky is sad too.
10. “Stop taking your medication.”
Wow, are you a doctor? The last time I just stopped taking my medication, I spent a week in a psych ward and I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to pay that bill. Shut up, civilian.
11. “Just be happy.”
Just be happy? How did I never think of that? I’ll just go into my brain and flip on the happy switch! This is so great. Life-changing advice, truly.
12. “Don’t talk about it too much, you’ll bring people down.”
I already knew that. I know that people don’t want to hear about depression, and your reminder is just going to make me isolate myself even more. Also, if you don’t want to hear me talk about my depression, please don’t talk to me about how hard your job is or how awful your breakup was. A friendship is a two-way street.
13. “Stop whining.”
I’m not whining, just like someone groaning in pain because of a broken limb or cancer eating their body isn’t whining. I’m expressing my pain like I have every right to do. And further, whining implies that the problem is inconsequential. I’d like to see you spend one day in deep depression and call it inconsequential.
14. “Depression is a first-world problem.”
I know that other people have it worse. I know that other people are starving and in physical pain and in war zones. But my mind is a war zone and it’s making my life impossible and it is never OK to minimize someone’s problem because someone else, somewhere else, has it worse. That. Is. Never. OK.
15. “Just exercise and eat healthily!”
Wow, my word, you’re brilliant! You should be a doctor!
No, OK, you’re right — this is valid advice. I should eat better and work out. But that’s not going to heal me straight-up, first of all, and secondly, it took every ounce of strength to get out of bed this morning.
Then, I used coffee fumes to get in the shower so I don’t assault your nostrils with my scent. Now I’m sitting on the couch and I know I have to go to work, but I’m not sure how I’m supposed to go work out when I can barely gather the energy to get out of bed.
This is a catch-22: yes, it’ll make me feel better, but I need to feel better to do it. Reminding me is just going to make me feel worse unless you’re offering to go with me for a walk or a run.
If you do want to say something to someone battling depression, there are plenty of ways to be supportive.
“I love you.”
“I’m sorry you’re having a hard time.”
“Let’s go get ice cream?”
“I’m here for you.”
“I’ll pray for you (or send positive thoughts if that’s your deal).”
“Let’s go get some sunshine.”
Or tell your loved one that you don’t know what to say but you want to reassure them that you’re here for them. Tell them that it might not be OK, but you’ll stand by them.