Despite medical studies informing us that depression originates from a biological disposition, this disease is often mocked and minimized. Too often when a friend or loved one reveals that they have been struggling with depression, we are quick to conclude that they must just be feeling down and it’s as simple as “cheering up”. We often think we can hand them a check list of things to do to make all the negative feelings go away – go outside, do some exercise, hang out with friends, etc. But during this incredibly difficult internal battle, the most important thing to do is just provide your comfort by listening to them.
We’ve come up with a list of things you should never say to a depressed person, and rather the more comforting and supportive approach you should take when listening to their struggles. If you respond in a negative way after they shared their most vulnerable feelings with you, it may ruin your bond and drive them further into depression.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry
Telling anyone how they should feel is the most condescending thing you could possibly do. When you diminish their emotions and struggles, you also humiliate and invalidate their existence. This is a violation of the trust they have given you as someone important in their life, so do not judge – simply listen. Many suffer in silence, and when someone confides in you, take their word.
What to say: I believe you.
Life isn’t fair. By claiming that there are people around the world who suffer in greater lengths than your loved one is an insult to their intelligence. Whether a person is depressed or not, this phrase should never leave your lips.
What to say: You matter to me. You are not alone.
Again, you are minimizing this persons struggle. You are invalidating their feelings and existence. Someone with depression already accuses themselves. When someone they confide in points a finger, they lose trust. It makes them feel far more isolated and alone in the world. This is the last thing you want to do.
What to say: I’m sorry you are hurting. I will not abandon you. Don’t worry about me.
Telling a person what to feel or how to feel is useless. The most important thing to do is to acknowledge someones pain and remind them that you are there for them. Depression is something a person can’t verbalize or intellectualize even to their most inner selves. They owe you no explanations, especially when they don’t have one.
What to say: I am here for you.
“You say you’re depressed – all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective – it just means you’re human.” – David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Telling someone to cheer up is insensitive. It gives the message that you have no wish to understand or comfort them. It sounds harsh, but this is the truth. Asking someone to cheer up does nothing, except making them uncomfortable in their own skin.
What to say: We are both here for each other.
Depression isn’t something you can snap out of. A depressed person already criticizes themselves and has pushed themselves to get better, but they can’t turn it off. Don’t demand, instead listen and accept. Be sincere. Offer your time to take a walk with them, try out a relaxing yoga class, watch a movie, or do anything else they may enjoy.
What to say: I know you are not in the mood to go out, but we should do something together!
Do not tell somebody who is depressed to stop feeling sorry for themselves. This is a cruel thing to express. Depression is not something people can turn on and off. Instead, make your loved one aware that you’re available to help in any way you can.
What to say: I was here before this, and I will be here during and after this.
Although you mean well, you cannot tell a person how they feel. Every individual is different. We forget that when somebody shares their hurt, they are extremely vulnerable and naked. They do not expect you to fully understand or solve their problems. They simply want someone, who listens and comforts. Hold their hand.
What to say: I don’t know what you are feeling, but you can count on me. I’ll try my best to understand.
There could be many things wrong. Or there could be nothing wrong. We urge you to accept this concrete piece of advice: a depressed person has no fixed explanation for their feelings. Don’t demand answers. Just be there. Listen.
What to say: Do you want a hug?
This response is unacceptable. People, who usually suffer from depression, endure it in silence. Don’t violate their trust. Depression is not a choice. A depressed person feels helpless. They don’t have the means to help themselves, and they don’t need the burden of these heavy words.
What to say: I care about you.
Lastly, we remind you to be compassionate, motivating and thoughtful. Do not criticize something you don’t understand. Depression is a biological illness, which affects an individual psychologically and socially. Although research hasn’t yet proven the reasons why some people are naturally inclined to acquiring depression, we do know it needs to be studied and taken seriously.