7 Things Not to Say When Someone Tells You They Have Depression
I have major depression disorder, among other things. There. I said it. Telling people I have depression feels like coming out of the closet — usually depression is perceived weakness as a weakness, and it’s not something people like talking about. I’ve come to the point where I don’t really talk to anyone about it these days besides my doctor and, sometimes, my husband. People make so many assumptions about depression that, frankly, it annoys me. I’d like to dispel some of the incorrect responses people make to depressed people here.
1. “You shouldn’t feel depressed — you have so much!”
This comes in many forms. People will say things like, “How could you feel depressed? You have so many great things going on in your life!” I’ve heard people comment on celebrities who “have it all” and then die by suicide. Money, fame and good families do not negate the presence of depression.
That’s right. You can feel depression even when you have a lot. The reminder that we “have so much” only makes us feel worse. You might feel like you’re helping, but you’re not. You’re providing a source of guilt when you question the existence of depression in this way.
2. “Everyone has the blues sometimes.”
While this statement is somewhat true (not everyone suffers from the “blues” sometimes, but a lot of people do), it does not compare to depression. If you look at DSM criteria for depression, you’ll see that in order to obtain a diagnosis of depression, the symptoms must last longer than two weeks. Not only that, but you must have five or more of the criteria listed. Depression feels like more than the blues. It’s a lack of interest in everyday activities, depressed mood nearly every day, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue, either restlessness or the feeling of being slowed down, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, lack of concentration and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. You can feel most or all of these things to get a diagnosis, but it’s certainly more than just the “blues.”
3. “Can’t you just ‘snap out of it?’”
Actually, no, we can’t just “snap out of it.” It takes a lot of work to climb out of depression. Diminishing our feelings by assuming it’s as easy as telling ourselves we should just feel better, doesn’t help.
4. “But you seem so happy!”
Maybe. Some people can function in society with depression and others cannot. Sometimes it’s easy to put on a mask so that other people don’t see what we feel or ask any questions. For myself, I feel an obligation or duty to my children and my job that makes me power through it. When I get home and the kids go to bed, the breakdown occurs.
It gets exhausting putting on a happy face so we don’t bum other people out. Most of us feel guilty just for having depression.
5. “What’s making you feel depressed?”
Sometimes it’s good to have someone ask this question, and sometimes it’s not. I often cannot verbalize or figure out what’s triggered a bout of depression. Why? Because there’s often not just one thing. When someone asks me this question, my mind starts to circle around everything going on in my life. It’s an endless circle of thoughts I cannot escape from. Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what caused it. This makes me think things like, “What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel this way?”
6. “People who die by suicide are cowards.”
When you feel like a burden to everyone around you, sometimes you think your family, friends and other loved ones would be happier without you. That’s the warped part of depression, honestly. But it’s hard to shake. That’s why it’s so important to make sure a person with depression gets help sooner rather than later.
7. “But you’re on medication. Shouldn’t that help?”
Another variation of this is whether we’re taking our medication. If a person has just started medication, then it can take weeks for it to come into effect. On top of that, the medication may not work for that person, which means trying another medication after waiting weeks for the medication to work. Even with medication, the negative self-thoughts become ingrained and difficult to fight. If someone with depression does not also see a therapist, then it’s difficult to learn the correct coping skills for dealing with those feelings of hopeless and worthlessness. Medication alone does not make a person with depression lose those feelings.
What can you say to someone with depression?
The most important thing you can do for someone with depression is just being there for them. People who have depression easily become isolated. Friendships dwindle because they don’t want to deal with someone else’s seemingly endless sadness. Family members who don’t understand unintentionally hurt us. Sooner or later, there might be few people left to support us because it seems we’ve pushed them away.
Just offer to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on. Don’t question why they feel depressed. Accept the reality of depression and offer to go with them to a therapist, if they’ll try going to one. Recognize that depression can last a long time, but it’s not always forever and there are moments of sunshine in between the rain. In other words, be supportive because support is often the thing people with depression lack in their lives.