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Why Asking Why Someone Has Depression Isn't Helpful (and What to Ask Instead)


That’s typically the question I get after I tell someone I have¬†depression. While it’s a simple question, I need you to understand it doesn’t have a simple answer. I can tell you how I have a chemical¬†imbalance in my brain or how I’ve dealt with particular environmental¬†stressors. There are many reasons people have¬†depression. And¬†sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any reason at all. It’s just there.

Learning to live with it and how to fight it is enough of a struggle without trying to explain why.

I have depression. And I don’t owe you an explanation.

The question “why” shouldn’t be the first thing you ask after someone¬†confides in you. Here’s why:

1. Explaining why I have depression is exhausting. My personal¬†experience with mental illness is a heavy topic, and I’m not¬†always up for discussing it. While confiding in others can be¬†freeing (shout out to therapy), it can also be incredibly draining.¬†Please do your research before asking someone with depression¬†a million questions.

2. I might not know why. I’m 20 years old. I am at a point in my¬†life where I’m discovering who I am. I can’t be expected to know¬†all the answers, even if they are about me. Believe me, I’ve¬†spent my fair share of time asking myself why. Why is this¬†happening to me? Why do I have to deal with this? But these¬†questions only lead to more negative thoughts and self-pity, and¬†they won’t help me move forward. Please don’t hold me back.

3. It is invalidating. Asking me why I have depression can lead to¬†feelings of guilt. I feel guilty I’m depressed when obviously I¬†shouldn’t be if someone has to ask me why. This, of course, isn’t¬†true. But it’s a toxic thought I’ve had before. Even when I try to¬†explain it to people, I’ve had some tell me my reasons for having¬†depression ‚Äúaren’t good enough.‚ÄĚ Not only is this incredibly¬†invalidating, it is stigmatizing. Please don’t add to the reason¬†more people don’t reach out for help.

Here’s a few things you can do instead of asking someone¬†‚Äúwhy:‚ÄĚ

1. Listen. Let me decide how much I want to tell you. Don’t assume because I’m opening up to you that I’m willing to go into every¬†detail. Sometimes I don’t need you to ask a lot of questions. I just¬†need someone to hear me out and feel supported. While not asking¬†a lot of questions might be uncomfortable for you, imagine how¬†uncomfortable too many questions can be for me.

2. Ask me, ‚ÄúHow can I help you with this?‚ÄĚ There might not be¬†anything you can do. But knowing someone is willing to help can be¬†enough by itself. This question also means you’re focusing on the¬†future instead of dwelling on the causes.

3. Validate what I tell you. Let me know you hear me and believe me. Let me know I have every right to feel the emotions I experience.

Depression isn’t easy. But having people around who are supportive¬†and non-judgmental can help tremendously.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one phrase you wish people would stop saying about your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.