15 Things You Should Never, Ever, Under Any Circumstances Say To Someone With Depression (Unless You Want To Get Slapped)!
Being open about depression is difficult. Like, extremely, intensely, mortifyingly difficult and anyone who has struggled with it or even loved someone who has it knows exactly what I’m talking about. So if you or your loved one is dealing, it’s important to figure out what kind of advice is appreciated and, more importantly, where to shove the rest of it.
As a primarily internal struggle, depression is not exactly easy to explain to those whose brain cells aren’t at war with themselves. A broken leg looks painful, sure. We can all agree getting shot isn’t a walk in the park. But when it comes to mental illness, the symptoms can be all over the bloody place and, as a result, are often misunderstood.
For example, during one of my Major Depressive Episodes I fell into a bout of paranoia that made Mel Gibson’s performance in Conspiracy Theory seem lighthearted and whimsical. I was absolutely convinced that I was being followed by complete strangers, that my social media was being monitored, and that if anyone dared to communicate with me their very livelihoods were in danger. I was so batshit terrified that I spent a solid two days changing the passwords on every single website and social media account I had and I literally slept in my closet for fear they might try to get me by coming through the windows. (Funny story about the passwords - I couldn’t remember most of them when I came out of the haze!)
So you can probably imagine how unhelpful it was to have the people who loved me saying things like, “Why don’t you just relax and have a cup of tea?” Uhm, hello?! If Earl Grey was all that was missing then I would have been having a Boston Tea Party in my bathtub instead of sleeping with a knife next to my bed and watching old Dragnet reruns to see if I could pick up their detective skills!
(Before we get started: As a staunch proponent of self-care (seriously, follow my Instagram, it’s fuckin’ fabulous!), I’d like to point out that it’s often confused with a cure. It’s not. It’s about workin’ wellness and maintaining mental health. When someone’s deeply depressed, self-care isn’t enough to get us out of our rut. It absolutely needs to be part of the routine, yes, but when you offer it up in the wrong way, it’s downright disastrous.)
If you’re looking to show some love to someone who’s struggling with depression, check out my list of the 15 things you want to prevent from leaving your lips:
One: “You just need to get motivated!”
A lack of motivation is a symptom of depression, not a cause. By telling someone to go out and get it, you’re basically saying “Hey lazy, get off your ass and do something about it!” I’m gonna put a hard no right here.
Instead, try helping them to make small, manageable goals and to reward themselves for accomplishing them. Taking a shower, sitting in a chair instead of staying in bed, or taking a short walk outside are big accomplishments when we’re struggling the most. We aren’t Pavlov’s dogs but we can definitely train our brains to begin reacting positively to the moves we need to make, and when you remind us of our small wins, we won’t feel like we’re losing all the time.
Two: “You just need to do yoga!”
If bending my body into awkward, painful positions was a cure-all, I’d be a rubber band babe by now. While exercise can trigger all kinds of good feelings, the fact of the matter is that mental illnesses are imbalances in the brain. So while downward facing dog can do a number on your calves, it’s not gonna fix the problem.
Encouraging healthy behavior is always a good idea, but don’t preach it like it’s the only solution. Instead, offer it as self-care, which it is.
But remember, self-care is management for mental and physical health - NOT a cure.
Three: “Let’s have ladies night!”
Whether it’s wine and dancing or cocktails and LBDs, pouring alcohol or drugs on a mental illness is gas on a fire. It’s pretty darn downright dangerous to start masking symptoms with substances and forcing a big box of wine down your gal pal’s throat is a gateway to many more problems. You’re fuckin’ us over is the point there.
Get together? Sure! But that doesn’t mean you have to invite party probs into our lives. If you can’t get us out, offer to come in. Sometimes just sitting with someone is a good step in the right direction and the more you’re patient with us, the less we’ll feel judged for dealing with the urge to isolate.
Four: “Maybe you should meditate!”
If someone puts soft music on and tells me to think about a bubbling stream one more time, I will beat them mercilessly with an Enya album. Meditation is excellent for achieving relaxation and calm, but again, mental illness is an illness - a disease - and sometimes getting all up inside of our heads is the worst place we need to be.
Ask questions like, “What relaxes you the most?” Then encourage them to do that. For me, mediation works, but only when my depression is in a highly managed state. Otherwise, I’ll opt for all kinds of other things. And when I’m struggling quite a bit, it helps to run through a list of things that used to make me feel good and give me a violent shove in that direction.
Five: “I know how you feel!”
You mean well, you do, and you just want us to know that we’re not alone in our struggle. But if I had a nickel for the number of times people said this to me when I was losing my marbles, I’d be a mad hatter style millionaire by now. You may know what it’s like to be sad, but unless you’ve got the exact mental illness(es), the exact same consciousness, and exact same life experience, you don’t know how it feels.
Instead, tell them you understand where they’re coming from and that you feel for them. You can even tell them of a similar experience and the steps you took that helped you through. But don’t preach about how to find the light when they’re in the dark, especially if you’ve never walked in their shadowy shoes.
Six: “You’re so sad all the time! You just need to be more positive.”
Uhm, hi, it’s me, the Medical Dictionary, and I’d like to point out that depression IS NOT SADNESS! Ahhhh!! Sadness is just one of many, many symptoms that can arise from chronic mental illnesses like depression and depression is, by definition, depressing!
Instead of minimizing the despair that someone is feeling, you know, like a dick, try on your empathy hat and allow them to share their grief. Unless you’re their therapist, they probably don’t expect you to solve their problems, but they probably do expect you to care.
Seven: “Just stop thinking about it!”
Soooo mental illnesses are kind of like little hostage takers that barge into the brain and hold every cell at gunpoint. It’s next to impossible to simply “ignore” anyone who’s holding a bullet to your noggin so it makes absolutely no sense to give this kind of advice. If you’re thinking about saying something like this, I want you to picture this image: 🤫
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a phenomenal tool that takes quite a bit of work but has seriously solid results for helping those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression to get our thoughts to work for us instead of against us. Loved ones who know how to help their peeps walk through a few basic steps are a big help, so if you’re looking to do some good, snag a book about it and brush up!
Eight: “Why don’t you take up a new hobby?”
If stamp collecting was a good cure for depression, I’d have a bloody tongue and be banned from the postal service. Hobbies are distractions, not cures, and while it can feel good to invest time and energy in something we enjoy, this kind of advice is a bandaid on a bullet hole. Also, we suffer from an extreme lack of interest, so it’s hard to get us to pick up those knitting needles and the more you mention it, the more we feel like we’re failing.
Start small and think of little activities that used to make us feel good. We’re not interested in much when our symptoms are winning the day, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to fall back in love with the familiar than it is to get us to indulge in the new.
Nine: “You don’t want to be all drugged out!”
Bottom line: if it wasn’t for antidepressant and anxiety medication, I would not be alive today. Do I like pills? No. Do I like the stigma of taking medication? Hell no! You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer not to take their meds so don’t do it to people with mental illnesses either. Because we die, in massive numbers, when we don’t. Period.
Instead, be supportive and understanding and if you can’t do either of those things, again I refer you to this image: 🤫
Ten: “You should be thankful for what you have!”
A lack of gratitude has nothing to do with the chemicals in a person’s brain. And when you say something like this, you’re telling an already depressed person that they’re also ungrateful. Instead of kicking them in the crotch just for funsies, try to remember that there’s plenty of people who seemingly have everything: money, fame, loving families and adoring fans. And still they struggle with depression and anxiety like everyone else who has it too. It ain’t about what we have in our lives. It’s about the bullshit in our brains.
Instead of telling someone they should be thankful, give them a reason to feel thankful. Be supportive, listen, do your research and ask questions so you can refer them to the tools and methods that help them manage their mental health.
Eleven: “Why don’t you go do something nice for yourself?”
A new haircut. A new handbag. A half-empty sleeve of double stuffed Oreos and a belly full of regret. Doing a single nice thing for yourself provides a temporary high to a permanent low. Try to keep that in your mind when this thought crosses it.
One of the best things anyone has ever done for my depression was my husband who purchased me a CBT style book to help build my self-esteem during a dark period. He encouraged me to work through the exercises and gave me examples of things about me he liked that I could write down and explore. Actions, my dear reader, speak far louder than words!
Twelve: “Things could always be worse!”
Minimizing someone’s struggle doesn’t make it smaller, but it certainly makes your help minimal. Sure, your arms were sliced off, but were your legs cut out from under you? Sure, your legs got pulled off, but are you just a torso? Sure, you’re just a torso, but you’re still a knight with a fighting spirit! See what I mean?
Don’t point out the dark roads life can take someone down. Instead, focus on the present and try to help them find solutions to the problems they’re currently facing. It may not feel big to you but to the depressed brain it’s huge.
Thirteen: “Maybe you should try dating someone!”
Guess how many diseases penises cure? Give up? I’d say about negative twenty, give or take a few. While a good schtooping can knock your socks off, it’s not a solution and, often, creates more problems for the mentally ill. There’s nothing to kick you in the self-esteem groin like going to bed with the Tinder date who showed up in sweat pants and asked you to split the check at the Waffle House. (Don’t judge me… it was a dark time!)
Instead, encourage them to reach out to the folks they trust with their feelings. Keeping in regular contact with mental health professionals and supportive allies is a great tool for managing mental illness.
Fourteen: “You’re just having a bad day!”
Bad days are when you wake up in the morning and spill hot coffee on your crotch. Depression is a lifestyle. When you say things like this, you sound dismissive and uncaring, which can deepen symptoms of isolation and sadness.
While it’s important to remind them that they have ebbs and flows, try to stay proactive. Try something like, “I’m sorry it’s so bad right now. What do you have in mind to try to manage it? Is there something I can help with?” Sometimes we just need to know you’re on our team.
Fifteen: “Hardly anyone was depressed when I was your age!”
Contrary to closed-mouth generations, ours has learned to talk things out. Just because mum was the word doesn’t mean it wasn’t there and, I hate to point this out, but past generations of mankind have done absolutely horrible things as a result of not managing mental illness. Maybe don’t encourage history to repeat itself?
It’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to talk about something, but if you really want to be supportive, learn how. There are all kinds of resources for loved ones like online forums, support groups, blogs like this, books, and therapists. The more you educate yourself, the better partner you’ll be when they need you the most! And when in doubt, 🤫.