What Not to Say to Someone Who is Depressed
Occasionally, I wish that every single person on earth could experience one day of clinical depression. Not all at once, of course. Geez, would that bring everything to a grinding halt or what? No, I wish everyone could experience it as a rite of passage, like getting your driver’s license. Actually, I also wish this about being disabled. You wouldn’t believe how many people see me walking with my cane (I have Multiple Sclerosis, and sometimes need to walk with a cane) as some sort of impediment, and literally push past me so I don’t slow them down.
Anyway, I know that it may sound strange to wish that people could experience a day of depression, and kind of mean. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not wishing the pain and emptiness of depression on other people because of a vindictive impulse. But if everyone got at least a taste of depression, they might keep from saying inconsiderate and ill-informed things like:
- “Snap out of it” Snap out of what? You think I’m sulking or something? I’m just in a rut?
- “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself.” Maybe, but if I am, it’s probably the disease making me feel that way instead of me choosing to indulge in a pity party.
- “I know just how you feel.” Unless you’ve suffered from clinical depression - uh, no you really, really don’t. Maybe you had a glimpse of it if you had a significantly “down” mood at some point, but other than that, you really don’t know how I feel.
- “You have so much to be thankful for - why are you depressed?” Don’t you think that the depressed person has asked themselves that a thousand times?
- “Try prayer.” Leaving aside the possibility that the person you’re talking to is not religious, I can assure you that anyone who is spiritual has been asking their deity for help all along, and received what comfort they can from prayer.
- “Have you tried just not being depressed?” Oh my gosh, why didn’t I think of that? I’m cured! (Groan) I mean, honestly.
- “It’s a beautiful day!” Not helping. One of the things that is the most upsetting when you’re depressed is that a beautiful sunny day can’t touch the darkness you’re feeling.
- “It’s all in your mind.” Ummm, yeah. And that helps me how?
- “Everyone gets depressed sometimes.” No, what you’re talking about isn’t depression, but a funk or a rut or a blue day. That’s like comparing the flu to pneumonia.
Here’s a litmus test. If you wouldn’t say something to someone with diabetes or heart disease, don’t say it to someone with clinical depression. Go down that list. Can you imagine saying any of those things to someone with a disease that was not located in their brain? (Or even some that are. I would whack anyone who asked me if I had just tried not having Multiple Sclerosis).
Another tip - if what you’re saying could be classified as a platitude, consider keeping your mouth shut.
I know that this list is probably coming off as kind of snotty. And I know more often than not, people think they’re being helpful when they say these things, or they’re frustrated with not being able to get through to someone. But saying the wrong thing will just make the depressed person feel more lonely and detached from you. Or, to be more precise, saying something that shows that you haven’t tried at all to understand clinical depression will make the depressed person feel that way. Or that you’re stubbornly refusing to believe that they have an illness, despite the evidence.
But there’s hope! In my next SharePost, I’ll give you another list - what to say that can help or comfort someone with depression.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.