10 Things Not to Say to Someone With Depression

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More than 14 million Americans suffer from clinical depression, but much about it is still misunderstood. People often assume that a comment that might make them feel better on a bad day will do the same for someone who’s depressed. That’s just not the case. Clinical depression is more than the blues. Here’s a sampling of what not to say.

"I know how you feel"

This is a very common phrase used to comfort someone going through a rough time, but is likely the last thing that a depressed person wants to hear.  Once those words are uttered the recipient is probably thinking, “how could you possibly know what I am experiencing right now?”  And they are right… you can’t possibly know.  Instead you may want to say, “I’m sorry you are having a hard time right now. If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.”

"You need to exercise"

While it’s true that exercise boosts your mood, it isn’t a magic cure for depression.  If it were really that easy, everyone would be exercising like a fiend and antidepressants wouldn’t be one of the leading medications prescribed.  If lack of exercise truly is believed to be the solution then perhaps invite them on a walk to vent their frustrations – but don’t tell them exercise is what they need.

"It's all in your head"

While listening to a depressed friend express their concerns, it may seem like they’ve got it all wrong and are reading into things, making them feel worse than they should.  This is something a person with depression may not be able to see or accept. The fact is, mental illness is influencing their thoughts and feelings and they can’t just ‘snap out of it’.  In fact, this phrase only leaves them feeling misunderstood and unable to confide in you.

"Get a different job"

Easier said than done. If a job is feeding depression, chances are that feeling stuck at that job is a bigger problem. There are many reasons why a person may feel they can’t leave a job they don’t like—the need to support a family, income, benefits, lack of other opportunities.  A better choice of words would be, “How could your job improve? Or “What would make going to work more bearable?”

"Think positive"

This one can sound especially callous. We often don’t realize when we are simply regurgitating pat phrases when we’re attempting to relate to someone. Positive thinking may help when you’re simply feeling grumpy or if there’s a tendency to think of things in negative terms, but this kind of advice can’t make clinical depression take flight.

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself"

This one is often said in frustration following a failed attempt to comfort someone. But it’s likely to only fuel the depression and diminish a person’s trust. If it was that easy to think positively, they would. The old saying holds true: “If you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.”

"Could it be your relationship?"

If a friend is constantly complaining about a relationship, this could seem like a fair question, especially since a negative relationship can put significant strain on a person’s mental health. However, depression could be the reason a person is having relationship problems. Overall, this is such a personal matter that it’s better left to your friend to bring up.

"Look at how lucky you are"

Chances are most of us could be a lot worse off, but that doesn’t stop us from feeling held back, inadequate, lonely, physically ill, scared, or any number of other emotions.  Thinking about how much worse it could be may only encourage negative emotions and anxieties.  Not to mention, this phrase may come across as preachy and out of touch with reality, especially to someone experiencing depression.

"Everyone has problems"

This is true, and depression doesn’t skew a person’s ability to recognize this.  But the fact that everyone has problems could end up encouraging the feelings of hopelessness associated with depression, and it won’t solve the problems of someone with clinical depression.

"Life is hard"

As if someone who’s depressed needs reminding. What would be more helpful is focusing on how to ease life’s troubles. Think compassion and empathy, not bromides.