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Why You Shouldn’t Say ‘You Can Do It’ to a Person With Depression

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When I was deep in my depression, I heard so many caring people and my family say to me, “You can do it!” or “Be strong!”

I feel their love, but I feel weak. I feel so small.

Every time I heard words like those and others with similar intentions during my depression, it did the opposite from what it was intended. I asked myself, “Why am I not strong?” “Why I can’t beat this?” I used to look at people who have emotional turmoil and think they are weak people, and I will not be like them, but I was.

I used to say the same thing to people with anxiety and depression. But going through depression, I learned from my experience that sometimes, words don’t help when a person is hurting — no matter how good the intention. Most of the time, the best thing is to say nothing and just be there — a willing ear to listen, no matter how irrational, “weak” or useless a person with depression is feeling.

A person living with depression didn’t choose to be in that situation. It is like a quicksand that one falls into and is having a hard time getting out of. The more a person struggles, the deeper they sink. They become so trapped that they can’t reach out to ask for help. What is more awful is that the victim won’t even reach out to ask for help because of the stigma we give to depression.

Most of the time, I think we try to quickly help but most of what we do can be compared to a small stick that breaks when the quicksand of depression pulls the person down. It is a “panic-in-the-moment” kind of help that sometimes makes things worse instead of helping. We panic and have no idea how to really help a person with depression. Many will express that they want to help, but that is just it, an expression. When we really want to help someone with depression, we must be willing to get down and get dirty. We say words like, “You can do it!” and don’t really reach out so that they can get out of depression. Sometimes, we just feel we have to do something, just so we take away the guilt of not being able to help.

So let me say this, as one who survived depression: thank you for all the well-meaning acts of help, but please don’t look down on us as you do so. We don’t need all the lectures and the little sticks of help you send. What we need while in depression is to get out of the quicksand.

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Getty Images photo via francescoch

Originally published: January 29, 2018
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