Thursday, 18 June 2020

Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person!

If you're caring for a depressed person, or have a friend who is depressed, it can sometimes be hard to know what to say. Even if you're well-intentioned, it can be easy to say the wrong thing. People with depression often have low self-esteem and profound feelings of guilt and hopelessness and can take, what you consider to be well meaning advice, the wrong way. But obviously, for them it is the wrong way.

Don't Say It!

Sometimes it's easier to list things that you should try to avoid saying - so here goes:

Pull Yourself Together - this is the old classic 'man-up', 'get a grip', 'snap out of it' sort of comment. However, depression is a real illness and has seldom, if ever, been resolved by 'pulling yourself together'. Often, depression is the result of a chemical inbalance in the brain - not of someone who is malingering. You wouldn't say to a diabetic 'man-up' because their body can't produce enough insulin.
It's all in the mind - this is another common thing that people say when they are trying to help. In many ways, depression is 'all in the mind' but that doesn't mean that it isn't a serious and difficult illness to overcome. When a depressed person hears this comment it can come acrosss as very patronising. It can also prompt feelings of guilt because it suggests that it's all their own fault. Or worse that it's purely an imaginary condition in the first place.
Worse things happen at sea - when you feel depressed it can feel truly awful - so to be told that there are many people who are worse off than you is not helpful. Obviously there are many people in the world who endure terrible illness and suffering - but it doesn't lessen someone's depression to hear that. In fact, it is likely to increase someone's depression to realise that the world is full of suffering. There is also an implied suggestion here that the depressed person may be over-acting or milking the situation
Count your blessings - as I have mentioned before depression can affect anyone. It can affect those who, on the surface, are very lucky. It can affect the rich, the happily married, the successful. But that doesn't mean that their suffering is any the less because of these things. As Matthew Johnstone says depression is an 'equal opportunity mutt'.

Other unhelpful comments include:
  • Look on the bright side
    • Just get off the sofa and go and do some exercise
    • You don't look depressed
    • It's a lovely day outside
    • Cheer up
      • You're just looking for attention
      • Have you taken your tablets today?

      Instead, try being thoughtful and empathetic. Sometimes just being there is probably the most important thing that you can do - because having depression can feel very lonely. You may have heard it all before - but listening is very important too. Try to be encouraging if the depressed person is thinking of seeking support via their GP or is about to try counselling or medication etc. Helping them to do practical things for them like cooking a meal can be good - but try not to do too much for them as this can take away their sense of self reliance. Asking if they would like to go for a walk or a coffee can be good. Bringing them useful books can be thoughtful - but try not to force them to read them. (Just leave them in the bag for later.) Talking about people who have been through the same thing they are going through can be good. Unconditional love goes a long way too.

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