What Not to Say to Someone with Depression (And What You Can Say Instead)

Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people in the United States every year. It can be incredibly isolating and frustrating. Sometimes, it seems like no one around you understands what you're going through. If you know someone who is struggling with depression, it's important to know what not to say to them. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the most harmful things people say to those with depression, as well as some helpful alternatives.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Depression is more than just feeling down for a few days. It's a mental illness that can cause serious symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle day-to-day activities. A depressed person is stuggling – their brain isn't working quite right. Someone with depression may have symptoms that can be mild, moderate, or severe. Symptoms may last for just a few days or weeks, or for months or even years. Common signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • low mood
  • fatigue or low energy
  • trouble concentrating
  • changes in sleep patterns (sleeping too much or too little)
  • changes in appetite (eating more or less than usual)
  • low self-esteem
  • feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • thoughts of death or suicide

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms of clinical depression, it's important to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor about what you're going through and ask for a referral to a mental health professional. You don't have to go through this alone. Help is available.

Things not to say to someone with depression

When you have a person struggling with depression, it can be hard to know what to say. Depression affects a person's ability to respond well to things like highly personal interactions. As a result, when you're speaking to someone with depression, you want to make sure that you're being sensitives to the person's life, as well as your own feelings. Here are some common things that we may say that can make matters worse.

1. “You don't look depressed”

If someone has a broken leg, no one tells that person that they've made it up. But for a person living with mental health struggles – they hear that quite frequently. There is a stigma surrounding mental health, and a depressed person doesn't want to hear that you don't believe them.

Instead, try lending a listening ear to depressed people. Although you aren't a therapist, listening with the right intentions can help a person with depression through some of the worst things that their brain is doing.

2. “Why are you so sad?”

This one is like a punch in the guy. When someone expresses how depression feels, or relays that they're having suicidal thoughts, the last thing they want is for family members and friends to question WHY they're so sad. Depression can be situational (e.g., dealing with a loss), but often – it's just chemical imbalances in the brain.

If you're really curious about brain chemistry, do some research about their medical condition. Instead of making them feel unheard, you can let them speak openly about their struggles because you'll be better prepared to listen.

3. “It's all in your head”

Depression is in the head, yes, but it has real physical effects: sleep loss, changes in appetite, and how people respond to stress. A loved one with depression knows it's all in their head. Instead of saying this, why not try to refocus your efforts on helping them feel heard and loved?

Try participating in everyday activities, like taking a walk or watching some TV together. Check in with someone with depression frequently to make sure they're getting what they need in their time of struggle.

4. “Cheer up!”

If someone could cheer up on command, depression wouldn't be a thing. Instead, talk to your friend about whether or not they'd be interested in doing something like a gratitude exercise. If not – leave your loved one alone.

In other words, simply telling someone to cheer up won't cut it. But providing people living with depression some options or concrete things they can do – with you? That's a better solution.

Final thoughts…

Someone with depression is struggling on a day to day basis to live their lives. While not everyone means to be cruel, people living with depression have a difficult time parsing intentions. They can sometimes be overly sensitive to helpful advice. So avoid making comments that come off as shaming, and instead, be aware, express your concerns gently, and prioritize their safety above all. Compassion goes a long way in repairing a relationships with a depressed person.

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