9 Things Depressed People Are Tired Of Hearing From People Who Just Don't Get It
Even though one out of every 10 adults suffers from it and anti-depressant sales are higher than ever, depression is still a disease that is wildly misunderstood. Depression is a mental health condition that, yes, includes prolonged states of sadness, but can also result in physical exhaustion, suicidal thoughts, an inability to perform daily tasks, and disturbed appetite and sleep. It can be long-lasting or recurrent, depending on life’s circumstances. No matter the form it takes, though, depression doesn’t discriminate; anyone can be affected by it, cultural and social contexts aside.
You probably know someone in your life who is wrestling with depression, and it may be hard to know what to say to help her. Sometimes we say the wrong things, not on purpose, but because we aren’t used to talking about depression. And that’s OK — we’re not always going to get it right the first time. When I was wrestling with binge eating disorder and depression, countless friends or family members gave me advice that actually made me feel worse. I knew they were trying to be supportive, but if I had heard “Don’t stress so much” one more time, I might have screamed.
So, if someone you love is struggling to keep her head above the waters of depression and you don't know what to say, start by knowing that there are things you shouldn’t say. Here are the top nine.
1. "You Should Get Out More"
People who suffer from mental illnesses sometimes find it a struggle to leave the house, not because they're boring or have nothing to do, but because they are depleted of energy. Psychology professor and author of The Depression Cure Dr. Stephen Iladi says clinically depressed folks tend to pull themselves away from family and friends and emotionally shut down. A healthy alternative is to simply ask your friend if she wants to go do something low-key with you, like get a cup of coffee or take a walk in the park.
2. "Think About The People Who Have It Worse Than You"
Just because someone else is unhappy doesn't make me feel any better. In fact, saying this dismisses your friend's pain without even giving her the chance to talk about it. Avoid citing famine and war as reasons to perk up; it's already embarrassing enough to feel this sad. There are a million rational reasons why you should be happy — and that's one of the most frustrating parts about depression.
3. "Just Be Strong"
Psychologist Dr. Clifford Lazarus says phrases like this minimize what the person is going through, as if it's all just in their head. Individuals with depressive thoughts can't simply wish them away with rational thinking. It's not like they can simply snap out of the state they're in. Instead of telling them to buck up, ask if there are any ways you can help.
4. "Don't Talk About It So Much"
It's a difficult topic to discuss, but shutting someone down is the wrong way to go. You are most likely depriving them the thing they need most — a pair of non-judgmental ears. People deserve to tell their stories, and it's our job to listen. The more we hear the truth about this mental illness, which cuts across all cultural and social contexts, the more we can de-stigmatize depression and help others.
5. "Just Try A Different Medication"
Just because we take a few Advil for a headache doesn't mean popping a few pills when we are depressed is the answer. Medication isn't for everyone. In fact, recent research shows that one in every four Americans reported that their condition worsened after trying anti-depressants. Don't assume that everyone's problems can be solved with a brand new prescription.
6. "Have You Tried Eating Healthier?"
Although there are studies showing that what we eat affects our moods and overall wellbeing, prescribing a change in diet isn't a way to be supportive. And when someone is wrestling with clinical depression, it's not as simple as eating more vegetables in an attempt to remedy the chemical imbalances. If you want to help them eat better food, don't lecture them; lead by example, and maybe cook them a nice dinner.
7. "Chill Out"
If it were so easy to "go with the flow," don't you think we would? Dr. Adam Kaplin, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins University, says it's best if we don't say things that make it seem like depressed people are going through this tough time because of a lack of coping skills or a personal weakness. Be a calm presence yourself, and that will undoubtedly be a positive influence.
8. "Cheer Up"
This one can be extra painful — the person you say it to wants to be happy, trust me. Author of Living With Depression Deborah Serani reminds us that, while we think they feel the basic kind of sadness that hits us sometimes, it's more than that. The feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are much harder to simply will away, so this nugget of advice doesn't do any good.
9. "But You Have No Reason To Be Depressed"
Sometimes there are life events, such as trauma or loss of a loved one, that trigger the symptoms of depression, but that's not always the case. By telling them they need a reason to be upset, you will likely exacerbate their pain — and make them feel devalued. Offer to take them to see a medical professional instead; like any other disease, depression needs to be treated properly.
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