I have struggled with depression for the last 15 years (something I’ve discussed at length here & here). That means I’ve had 15 years of highs and lows. 15 years of trying to make myself feel better. It also means, that I’ve had 15 years of receiving well meaning – but misinformed unsolicited advice about my ‘problem’.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure we all appreciate it when people try and gives us what they think is ‘helpful’ advice, but sometimes all we want for you to do is shut the fuck up and listen to us; and maybe offer us a hug where appropriate. Sometimes, well-intentioned words can be very harmful and hurtful especially when someone is deep in the throes of a depressive episode. For that reason, I’ve decided to list 10 things you should never say to someone going through depression. Read it, absorb it, share it.
1. “What About All The Other People Who Have It Worse?”
Do you know how embarrassing it is to constantly feel sad? There are a million reasons to be happy and it’s one of the most frustrating things about depression. Don’t dismiss my pain saying the above without even letting me talk about it first. Just because someone else is unhappy, it’s not automatically going to make me feel better.
2. “Oh We All Get Depressed.”
No. We don’t all get “depressed”. Depression is a clinical psychiatric illness. Yes, people may experience periods of frustration, grief and waves of extreme sadness, but sadness is a feeling and depression is an illness. Those two things are very different. How? Depression – the disease – is a chronic illness, while sadness or ‘depressed feelings’ are temporary. Don’t get me wrong, the symptoms of depression can be intensified by external factors, but that it itself is not enough to cause depression. Because it’s a disease; a disease caused by chemical, biological, enviromental and genetic factors.
3. “Depression Isn’t A Real Thing”
The amount of times I’ve heard this from within the Afro-Caribbean community ALONE is astounding. Honestly, with all the information out there, how can you not know depression is real? Yeah it’s not something that will show up on an X-Ray, but it’s a real thing that affects millions of lives every day.
4. “Why Don’t You Try and Be Stronger?”
Listen honey. The only reason I’m still alive is because I’m stronger than a motherfucker. Until you’ve been there, you wouldn’t understand how much strength and willpower it takes to just make it out of bed. A little extra ‘strength’ isn’t going to magically cure me.
5. “Just Smile; You’ll Feel Better!”
Would you tell someone suffering from cancer to treat their illness with a smile? Would you tell someone with a broken neck to grin the pain away? No. Because it’s absurd. Illnesses and injuries need to be treated medically and the same goes for mental illnesses. The problem is because depression is mental, many people assume it is ‘all in your head’. Many assume that it is a matter of strength or choice. Many assumed you can just shake it off, but depression doesn’t work like that.
6. “Have You Tried Eating Healthier Food?”
I’m already depressed. You think tasteless broccoli and sprouts are going to make me feel better?? GIVE. ME. FIVE. GUYS. BURGERS. & FRIES.
7. “It’s All In Your Head. You’ll Feel Better Soon!”
Not only is the above statement wrong, it’s also inaccurate, ignorant and dangerous. A statement like this implies that the person with depression has control over their illness. It implies that if they cannot control their illness, it isn’t because they are sick but because they are weak or they do not want to. This type of thinking is dangerous.
8. “Just Go Outside & Get Some Fresh Air.”
Pushing me to do things isn’t going to help. If anything, it’s going to make me feel more insecure and more anxious. Just be patient and understanding and I will get better.
9. “Just Try Not To Think About It”
When has that ever worked for anyone? Ever?
10. “What Do You Have To Be Depressed About? You Have All the Things!”
Depression doesn’t pick and choose between those who seem to have perfect lives and those who always have something going wrong. It’s not a logical illness and there’s almost no set reason as to why someone would be suffering from it. Don’t try and make others feel guilty for being depressed.