10 Things to Never Say to Someone With Depression
Depression is undoubtedly common -- 6.7 percent of people 18 and older had at least one depressive episode in 2013, according to the National Institute of Mental Health -- and it’s likely you’ll eventually have to deal with a loved one who’s suffering. Trouble is, there’s no playbook to advise you what you should or (worse yet) shouldn’t say to them. One thing is clear, though: If you suspect a loved one is suffering from depression, speak up. “Saying something might not only prompt them to get treatment, it also validates their feelings and makes the person feel less alone, both of which are invaluable to somebody who’s depressed,” says Susan J. Noonan, M.D., M.P.H., board-certified physician consulting with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and author of “Managing Your Depression.” Noonan speaks from experience: She suffered her first bout of depression as a teenager. When talking with your loved one, avoid saying the following 10 things.
1. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just being lazy.”
You may not understand why your loved one is thinking the way they do, and even though his or her thoughts may seem distorted, saying this shows that you couldn’t care less about this person’s struggles. “You’re dismissing this person’s feeling, which indicates that you don’t respect what this person is going through,” Noonan says.
2. “You think you have problems? You should hear what I’m dealing with.”
Point blank: It’s not a competition. But in today’s world, everybody’s competing to be the busiest or most stressed, yet they’re not titles worthy of competing for, especially with depressed individuals. “Although each of us has challenges in life, somebody who’s depressed may not be able to cope with their stresses,” says Merry Noel Miller, M.D., professor of psychiatry at Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, and author of “Finding Your Emotional Balance.”
3. “You can choose to be happy.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. “Depression is a complex illness with multiple causes, not something somebody chooses to experience or is responsible for,” says Miller. Like Noonan, Miller also has firsthand knowledge of depression, as she experienced severe depression in her 20s. She’s since received professional treatment and has recovered.
4. “Depression isn’t a legit medical condition.”
This one’s a double whammy. Not only will you invalidate your loved one’s suffering, you might also prevent this person from seeking professional help, which could make things worse. “The longer an episode of depression goes untreated, the more difficult it becomes to treat and the more likely it is to recur,” Noonan says. In fact, when Noonan experienced her first depressive episode as a teenager it went untreated, largely because her family wouldn’t acknowledge it and denied that depression even existed. As a result, she didn’t get professional help until her 40s, and she regrets having waited so long.
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5. “Can’t you just get over it?”
By saying this, you’re suggesting that having depression is something this person has chosen to experience and can easily shake off, Miller says. But it’s not that easy: Depression has many causes and can take years -- even a lifetime -- to recover from.
6. “You’re a guy. You can’t be depressed.”
Depression is often regarded as a woman’s illness. While some estimates indicate that women have twice the rate of depression as men, a recent study found that because current screening tools aren’t catching all of the incidents of depression in men, it could be occurring almost equally among men and women, Noonan says. There are, though, differences in symptoms. Unlike women, men are usually more irritable or argumentative, work and drink more and may even engage in substance abuse and heightened sexual activity.
7. “Maybe you should take a break so you can deal with your condition.”
This statement indicates that you regard this person as so ill or impaired that he or she can’t engage in regular activities, which is the opposite of what your loved one wants to hear. “People with depression want to feel and be treated normally and to participate in their usual activities,” Noonan says, adding that it’s beneficial for these individuals to stick with their normal routines. Plus, if you treat them as sick individuals, they could take on a sick, dependent role, meaning that they either give up caring for themselves or rely too much on others to do things for them, which could hinder their recovery.
8. “Your problems won’t go away if you keep talking about them.”
This is basically akin to saying: “Quit whining about your problems.” How much more rude and uncaring do you want to sound? Besides, saying this minimizes and essentially ridicules the suffering your loved one is going through, Miller says.
9. “If you pray/sleep/eat better, you’ll feel better.”
It’s never really that simple, and there’s likely not a single solution for anyone dealing with this. And while healthy lifestyle behaviors might mitigate some effects, they’re usually no match for severe depression. Plus, even though you probably have good intentions by sharing this information, you might cause your friend to become confused about what to do, especially if you’re saying one thing and doctors are saying another, Noonan says.
10. “Pull yourself up and get going.”
Emphasizing that this can be done alone and without the help of a professional can send conflicting messages to your loved one, which will only make depressed individuals more confused, especially if they’ve already started working with a medical professional. “This person may respect your opinion enough that he begins to question whether he should be doing what his doctor is advising,” says Noonan, adding that professional help is a must for many individuals.
What Do YOU Think?
What should you say to someone who is depressed? What are some words that you or people you know who deal with depression have appreciated? Tell us in the comments below.
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