Sometimes it’s hard to understand how someone feels who is depressed. We might not know what to say to them, or how to act around them. This post will advise you on some of the things you shouldn’t say around a depressed person.
If you’d like to know what it’s like to be depressed have a read of my post how it actually feels to be depressed.
The worst things to say to a depressed person
“Just think positive”
In general I think this is a bad piece of advice to give anyone, even if they’re not depressed. It doesn’t really mean anything, and it doesn’t offer any advice on how to think positive. Imagine an athlete who competed in competitions and always came second, would the advice “just run faster” be useful? No.
To tell a depressed person to “just think positive” would indicate to them a couple of things. It’ll show you have no interest in understanding how they feel and it’ll show them they’re somehow different for not being able to do something that’s easy for you. In other words, it won’t help in the slightest.
Some better things you can say are:
– How can I make you feel better?
– What’s something we can do to make you feel a bit more positive about yourself?
– I’m doing this today, I think it might help you feel a bit more positive, would you like to join me?
“It’s all in your head”
While technically this might be true (as depression is a mental illness), to say this to a depressed person implies it’s something they have a choice over, when in fact they don’t.
Depressed people have a mental illness and they are very sensitive to negative comments. This comment would certainly come across as an attack on them. They haven’t chosen to be depressed, just like a person with a broken leg hasn’t chosen to have their leg cracked.
Some better things to say are:
– I can see you’re really struggling with this, is there anything I can do to help?
– I understand you can’t just turn depression off, so I’m here to support you.
– It’s really hard right now, but I’m here if you need me.
– You might feel like it’s all in your head, but it isn’t, this is a very real thing and I want to help you.
“Just snap out of it/get over it”
This expression is about as useful as a carpark in a lake: utterly not useful in any way. Again it implies that the depressed person has a choice, and it implies that the person can just turn it off. If someone had the flu and was laying in bed sick would you say to them “just snap out of it”? Of course you wouldn’t. Saying it to a depressed person makes you come across as an insensitive, ill-informed asshole, don’t do it.
“Why don’t you just do something?”
The key to getting out of depression certainly involves trying to be active and ‘doing things’, however this is the wrong way to word it.
Remember that depression is an illness, so what might be incredibly easy for you might feel like jumping out of a plane for them. Saying “just” implies it should be easy for them, when getting out of bed might be a huge challenge.
Some other things you could say are:
– Is there anything you feel like doing right now?
– I don’t think that staying at home is helping you, how about I come over and we get out of the house for a bit?
– Is there a task around the house I can help you with?
“My mum/brother/friend/colleague had depression and they got over it quickly”
I understand that you might be saying this to give the depressed person hope, but it’ll have the opposite effect. If you said this to me while I was depressed I would’ve thought: great, I’m such a stupid failure that I can’t even be normal like everyone else and get better quickly like everyone else.
With depression there are no time limits, some people have it for years or even decades. I was depressed for about 18 months before I started to feel it have no grasp over me. Telling a depressed person a story about how someone you know recovered from it quickly will just make them feel like crap for still having it.
Some other things you can say are:
– My sister/brother/friend had depression and they had a really tough time, so I can understand how hard it is for you.
– My friend found that her recovery was made easier by doing x/y/z. Maybe that can help you too. I can look into it for you if you want.
Anything implying they are weak or different is bad
Ask them what they want
Ask the depressed person how you can help, or what you can do. Never dismiss their illness as something they can just ‘get over’, or something they have a choice in, because it isn’t.
Be sensitive to their needs, you don’t need to tread on eggshells around them, but you don’t need to be an ass either. If you’re ever unsure of what to say then think about it first, if it’s dismissive or invalid criticism (criticism without offering a solution or alternative), then rethink what you’re going to say and always be considerate of their feelings.
Other great articles to read
I’ve written lots of great posts about how to help people with depression and many other life hacks outside of depression. You should have a read about how to talk to someone who has depression. Depression warning signs, the best music to listen to when depressed and many others on my self development page.