I have found that many people just don’t know what to say when they come across someone with depression. Especially when it is a loved one or someone you consider to be close. I understand that people may say things with the best of intentions. But these can often be wrong.
My experiences have ranged from people saying nothing to being downright rude and offensive.
For me the most offensive was either “pull yourself together” or (and this really used to make my blood boil) “get a grip”.
I found it better if people just said nothing. I just wanted someone to just sit there and to let me know they were nearby. ‘Kind’ words were not needed, because words didn’t really ease what I was experiencing.
What people say
Having spoken to other people about what they have experienced I compiled a list of some of the most stupid comments even uttered to someone with depression.
“Try thinking positive.”
Studies show that mental health problems of all kinds, including depression, are caused by chemical and electrical imbalances in the brain. This means a depressed person’s brain does not have the capacity to dwell on positive thoughts and feelings. Telling someone with depression to think their way out of it is a bit like telling an obese person to think themselves thin. It just doesn’t work.
Furthermore, a depressed person has probably spent most of their lives acting positive to keep other people happy. It has now got to the point whereby they are exhausted carrying out this fakery. And can now longer ‘act’ to keep you happy. I went into great detail on this in my blog called ‘How To Hide Depression’.
“You’re getting stressed about nothing.”
If the problems are being belittled it feels like a personal attack, and it may make the problem worse. People need to understand that victims have a different outlook on life and that your belittlement does not help to solve the problem. The victim’s experiences are just as varied as everyone else’s and may have had a different outcome previously. One of which you could not imagine (perhaps).
From my experience, I found that when I was able to open up and discuss my concerns with someone the dismissiveness backfired and made my concerns even worse. Therefore, these words further impacted the problems I was experiencing. Furthermore, it made me feel guilty for wasting peoples time requesting their help and understanding.
“It will pass.”
Medical treatment is necessary for most people struggling with depression. I have fully embraced medication and counselling to beat my depression. I have also come to accept it as an illness. Diabetes is an illness and you would expect a diabetic to take medication. So why can’t a depressive be afforded the same dignity?
Depression kills and needs to be recognised as a potentially fatal illness. Yes, it might pass but equally it might not. By saying “it will pass” is highlighting the persons ignorance of what it means to have depression. Alas, there is nothing dismissive about what it feels like to have such a heavy burden to carry.
“Being depressed is better than … “
I can understand why people say this. I feel they are trying to put the illness into some form of perspective. However, it makes the sufferer feel as though you think they are making up their illness. Worse still, the suffer may feel that their illness is irrelevant and small.
Depression prevents normal thinking and so nothing has a true perspective of which you balance with. Depression is not a condition of which people choose. Ideally depression wouldn’t exist. But it does, and when it takes over it does not discriminate on how it grabs a hold. It suffocates and swallows its victim whole. There is nothing to compare it with.
“It’s your own fault.”
This was a favourite of my ex. She decided that her actions were based on my faults. Never tell a depressed person that they are struggling because of their own actions. Just like any other illness, I had no say or decision of when it would strike. One day I could be well and strong and the next the complete opposite. So outside factors didn’t usually dictate how I felt. Therefore, it wasn’t my fault, or for that matter anyone else’s fault (this was certainly the case in my younger years).
There needs to be more recognition from other people to acknowledge what a struggle it is to keep going. Certainly, never blame a sufferer for what they are feeling or try to point some form of blame.
In an abusive relationship, this creates a power imbalance whereby the abuser deflects the blame for their actions onto the victim. “It’s your fault” they may state “for being…” Therefore, beating the victim further down into the depression abyss.
“Count your blessings.”
Someone with depression isn’t just feeling down; they’re experiencing a state of illness. Though considering the good things in life might help too emphasise the positive, it isn’t a whole solution for someone with medical problems.
I have spent hours pouring over old photographs recalling happy moments. I have tried again and again to see how lucky I am. Indeed, I am lucky. I have beautiful children and very good friends. I have a job people would love to do and I am reasonably healthy. So don’t you think I have counted my blessings? I have spent probably 40 years trying to pull myself out of depression and I’m not very good at it. That is why I have sought further help and support.
“Don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
This is a misunderstanding of where depression comes from. Clinical depression is different from getting the blues, and requires much more than a change in perspective to turn around. Depression cannot be shrugged off easily. We all have the blues at times but the two are in no way connected and cannot be treated the same. A person with depression knows when they have the blues and they also recognise when they are having a period of depression.
“I know how you feel.”
Although this phrase might seem helpful, saying you know how your depressed friend is feeling can actually be patronizing. My depression is not a temporary state as I have had it for years. Therefore, what I am feeling or experiencing could be vastly different to what you think I am feeling. It is appreciated what you are saying but it is wrong.
What is best?
There is nothing wrong with trying to be supportive to someone with depression. In fact, I strongly advocate it. However, every case can be different. I strongly consider, that a little more thought is sometimes required before saying anything. I will also equally confirm that is sometimes ok to say nothing. As stated at the beginning of this blog, just letting the person know that you are there is often enough in the fight against depression. A warm hand to hold or a friendly face to recognise will be enough.