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The Danger of Encouraging ‘Positive Thinking’ With Depression

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It’s almost a cliché to tell someone with depression to “think positively” or to “see the good things.” It’s usually well-intentioned. Friends, family and even medical professionals have a habit of encouraging people with depression to view life through the same rose-colored glasses they do. Now, there is a lot to be said for trying to see the positive things around you as long as there is an understanding that sometimes (or a lot of times) the goggles of depression simply don’t allow you to see anything positive.

Depression blinds you to anything but the worst feelings you can have.

Depression takes away your fundamental ability to “see” anything except what it allows you to see.

Depression is not a choice. We can’t “choose happiness.” Don’t you think we would if we could? Why would we choose the living nightmare of depression? So when you encourage someone with depression to “be positive,” all you are doing is telling them they aren’t working hard enough. You are telling them that they are “failing” to be happy. You are saying it is their fault.

People with depression are trying with everything they have to see positive things. But their brain just won’t let them see it. They are ill, not lazy.

People with depression don’t need to be told how good their life is, how much they have to be happy about, or how much worse others have it. They don’t need to be told how to “fix” their depression — they need to be told they are loved and supported through it.

People with depression don’t need to be told “how” to feel or think. They need to be told that they are valuable no matter what.

It’s OK to encourage someone to see the good in a situation where they may be struggling with the darkness of their depression. It’s OK to help that person view things a little bit differently, and gently encourage them to observe the small things they might be missing. But someone with depression doesn’t need to be told that they aren’t “thinking positively” enough.

Depression is not a choice. We can’t “choose” how we feel as a result of our depression. We work hard every day to be the happiest, healthiest person we can be. Yet there will always be times where the depression wins — and we need to know that we are loved no matter what. We’d love to just “be happy” but it doesn’t work that way. So please, next time you try to tell someone with depression that they should just think more positively, remember that by doing so you are implying that their depression is their fault.

And that is the last thing someone with depression needs to hear.

Photo by Jess Bailey on Unsplash

Originally published: May 24, 2021
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