If you never had to deal with depression yourself, it can be very easy to say the wrong things to someone who is struggling with depression. Sometimes, well-meaning people can even make things worse by not really thinking about what they are saying. Depressed people already feel vulnerable and alone, and many feel guilty about their depression. What a depressed person wants to hear is that they are not alone and they want to be given some hope that things will get better. If you want to help a friend or a family member who is struggling with depression, here are ten things that you should not say to them.
1. You need to go out and have some fun
If it were that simple, doctors would prescribe comedy DVD’s instead of anti-depressants. One of the most horrible aspects of depression is that you stop enjoying the things that you used to enjoy. Depression isn’t simply a bad mood that can be lifted by doing some fun activities; it runs far deeper than that.
2. I know just how you are feeling
If you have no personal experiences of depression, then you have no idea how it feels and you will really annoy a depressed person by pretending that you do. In fact, it will only deepen their belief that no one really understands what they are going through and make them feel even more like they are on their own.
3. Remember; that there is always someone worse off than you
With this comment, you are probably trying to be helpful by getting things into perspective for your friend, but actually you are quite likely to make them feel worse. This can sound like you are trivialising a person’s problem and suggesting that they have no right to feel the way that they do.
4. You have so many things to be happy about
Sure, the sun is shining your friend is alive and well and they have somewhere to live, so what’s to be depressed about? Well, that’s exactly the problem when you are depressed; you can’t see the good things, you don’t appreciate them, and you can’t see any way of making things better. Pointing out the fact that a depressed person should be happy may just make them feel even more useless and inadequate.
5. Cheer up
Telling someone to cheer up will not cure their depression. Instead of trying to cure a depressed person, listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to pretend to understand what they are going through, but you could say something like; “That must be really hard for you”. A phrase like that tells the person that you understand that they are going through a tough time, even if you don’t understand exactly how they feel.
6. You have to be strong for your family
If your friend does have children, then you mustn’t make them think that they are letting their children down by their being depressed, or you will just be adding to their feelings of having let everyone down. Even offering to take the children of your friend’s hands for a day might be misinterpreted as an accusation that they can’t cope with their own children. If you want to help in this way, suggest that you all go out together somewhere with the children, and leave it at that.
7. Try and be more positive
A lot of people do think that depression can be overcome solely by positive thinking, but that alone is not enough. Depression is an illness that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, which limits the person’s ability to think positively. Try telling the person that it must be awful to lose the ability to think positively; because that will let them know that you do understand something about their condition.
8. Buck your ideas up
You can’t bully someone out of depression and phrases like “sort yourself out!” or, “buck your ideas up!” are not going to be at all helpful. This type of phrase just trivialises the condition and it will confirm to them that you have no idea at all what they are going through.
9. At least you don’t have…..
Telling a depressed person that they lucky that they only have depression and not some other, more serious disease is like telling someone who has lost a leg; don’t worry you have another! Although you are probably trying to help them get things into perspective, you are actually suggesting that depression is not a real disease at all.
10. You don’t need those pills to be happy
Never encourage someone to stop taking their anti-depressants, whatever your own personal beliefs may be. It can be very dangerous for a person to simply stop taking their medication. If a person has been prescribed anti-depressants, then it is for a reason and coming off them suddenly can lead to serious side effects and it could trigger a serious depressive episode.
What a person with depression wants to hear, more than anything else, is that they are not alone and that you do understand that their depression is real. You can’t solve their problems and you can’t cure their depression. All you can do is listen, be there for them and try to be as understanding as you possibly can.
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