In no particular order, below is a list of the 10 best and worst things we can say to someone with depression—and the reasons why we should and shouldn’t say them:
1. Depression isn’t real. At the end of the day, this is just plain ignorant. Depression is a serious illness that can affect every aspect of a person’s life. To belittle it in this way can be extremely offensive.
2. Just get over it. People don’t enjoy being depressed. If they could just “get over it,” then they would.
3. You have a mental illness? Then you must be crazy! Mental illnesses are just like physical illnesses—you treat them and get better. Having depression does not make someone crazy.
4.I know how you feel. This is okay if you have suffered from depression and you actually do know how the person feels. But if you haven’t, it can be really annoying.
5. We all have bad days now and then. Depression is far more than just a “bad day.” It is a serious illness that can be life-threatening.
6. You can’t be depressed—there are so many people in the world who are worse off than you. This is equivalent to saying “You can’t be happy, because there are so many people in the world who are better off than you!” Everyone is entitled to their happiness, in the same way that everyone is entitled to their pain.
7. It’s all in your head. This just isn’t helpful and can come across as dismissive.
8. Look how lucky you are. Depression is an illness—”lucky” people can suffer too.
9. Just think positive. Even the most positive people in the world can fall victim to depression. Over a four year period, I went through countless bouts of depression that almost led me to suicide—but there’s no way to deny that I’m a very positive person. This point goes back to that whole “depression is an illness” thing. Anyone can fall victim—positive people included.
10. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. For the last time, depression is an illness. It can develop for a myriad of reasons and certainly doesn’t imply that the sufferer is just wallowing in self-pity.
1. I love you. People with depression often don’t love themselves and thus find it impossible to believe that anyone else can. So if you do love someone who happens to suffer from depression, it can do wonders for them when you reiterate it.
2. I’m here for you. This is what people with depression need—support.
3. Is there anything I can do to make you feel better? The best thing you can offer them is your support.
4. Would you like to talk about what you’re going through? Being willing to listen is great—just make sure you don’t pressure them into talking if they’re not ready to.
5. I don’t quite understand what you’re going through, but I’m here to support you anyway. If you don’t understand, that’s OK. Just say so and be there for them.
6. I’m sorry you’re in pain. This is warm and compassionate and shows you’re on their side.
7. I’ve suffered from depression myself. If this is actually true—and you’re comfortable saying it—then this can be a great disclosure to make, as it helps the sufferer realize that they’re not alone.
8. Have you made an appointment to see a doctor? Such a response implicitly acknowledges the person’s pain and also encourages them to seek help––both very good things.
9. This must be very hard for you, but you’re going to get through this. Reinforcing a positive message can give the sufferer hope.
10. Is there something we can do together to take your mind off it? Try to encourage them to take part in joyful activities.
How about you? What are the best and worst things you’ve heard when you’ve told someone that you’re suffering from depression?
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Editorial Assistant: Judith Andersson/Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Mark Sebastian