7 things you shouldn’t say to someone with depression

Some well-meaning phrases that can actually do more harm than good — here’s what you can say instead.


This post is reblogged, from Netdoctor. Author:


Even if you don’t realise it, chances are you know someone with depression. According to Mind, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year, which means it probably affects someone in your circle right now. It also means if you’re feeling depressed, you’re definitely not alone.

Of course, when a friend is going through a hard time, you want to help. But it’s important to choose your words wisely so your friend, family member or colleague knows you really understand what he or she’s going through. Here are some well-meaning phrases that can actually do more harm than good — and what you can say instead.

1. “Cheer up!”

Depression isn’t the same as a bad mood. “When people have depression, they’re dealing with a brain-based medical condition,” says Ashwini Nadkarni, MD, a psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “Just as you can’t snap a person out of their asthma, you can’t snap someone out of their depression.” Instead, let them know you’re always willing to lend an ear—and really listen when they are ready to talk.

2. “You don’t need a therapist or pills. You just need [sunshine, yoga, coffee]!”

No one wants to see their bestie upset, so your natural impulse may be to find a quick fix. But steer clear of suggestions that trivialise what he/she’s going through or make her feel bad about seeking treatment. (You wouldn’t tell someone with strep throat they don’t need meds, right?) “Keep in mind that compassion and concern are best expressed through questions rather than answers,” Dr. Nadkarni says. “You don’t have to be her doctor.” If you feel like you need to do something, you can offer to help her research local doctors – but seriously, don’t underestimate the value of just listening and asking questions so he/she knows you care.

3. “So many people have it worse than you.”

“Saying something like that can worsen feelings of guilt,” Dr. Nadkarni says, and guilt already plays a big role in depression. It isn’t about being ungrateful or forgetting to look on the bright side. Depression can affect anyone. Instead of making your loved one feel bad about feeling bad, let her know you’re there for her any time she/he needs to vent.

4. “Don’t be such a downer.”

It was probably super-hard for her to open up about how she feels, so this isn’t the time for tough love. “Say, ‘I really care about you, and I want to make the time to discuss this, so let’s sit down and have coffee,'” Dr. Nadkarni says. And remember that depression can make it hard to do anything, so if your friend/loved one seems withdrawn or bails on plans, try not to take it personally.

5. “They discontinued my fave shade of lip gloss. I’m so depressed.”

Someone with depression can feel down for days, weeks, even months – so try to avoid using the word to mean you’re a little bummed about something. “That can imply that you’re not taking a medical condition really seriously,” Dr. Nadkarni says. “That can be hurtful, because it can invalidate someone’s illness.” Stick to words like sad, annoyed, frustrated, or disappointed to describe those temporary setbacks.

6. “Suicide is so selfish.”

How you react to stories in the news about depression and suicide will show your loved one whether he/she can trust you to take her seriously and offer judgment-free support. If a friend does confide that they’ve thought about suicide, don’t brush them off. “Taking a statement like that very, very seriously is incredibly important,” Dr. Nadkarni says. Let her know you’re grateful that they trusted you, and take immediate action to help them get the support they needs. This is a lot to handle on your own, so don’t hesitate to ask a someone else for guidance, e.g. a GP, a charity, a family member, etc. Even if you’re worried they’ll be mad at you for telling someone who can help her, you’ll be glad you got her the help she needs before it was too late.

7. “Feel better now?”

Being there for a loved on with depression requires more than one heart-to-heart — they needs to know she can count on you for the long haul. “A lot of times when people have depression, they feel like it’s all over, that nothing can help them, that they’re at the end of a journey,” Dr. Nadkarni says. Instead, she suggests, “Point out that they’re actually at the beginning, and there’s a vast array of information and experts out there that can assist.” As much as you want to help your friend or family member, depression is a serious mental illness, so don’t feel bad if despite all your effort, your loved one doesn’t seem to be getting better. Encourage them to see a professional who can help diagnose get treatment.

For more advice or guidance, speak to your doctor or mental health professional.

Photo credit to NetDoctor

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