What NOT to say to a friend with depression: A gentle reminder

You’ve got to stop saying certain things to a depressed person if you genuinely want to help them. Here's what you should keep in mind.
helping someone with depression
Everything seems more challenging when you’re dealing with depression. Keep that in mind, when you talk to your friend. Image courtesy: shutterstock
Sonakshi Kohli Updated: 23 Dec 2019, 07:18 pm IST
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If you have a friend who suffers from depression, you’d be seriously concerned and do whatever it takes to help him/her out. This goes without saying, right?

You might even try to offer some unsolicited advice or give them a lecture expecting them to snap out of depression. But you know what? All that “help” can actually backfire and make their situation worse.

In fact, according to the Mental Health Foundation India website, responding sensitively to a depressed person is extremely important. Hence, it is imperative that you choose your words carefully while talking to a depressed friend and avoid saying these things to them:

1. Don’t say: “Don’t be sad, this is just a phase”
A study, published in the BMC Psychiatry Journal, clearly mentions the importance of having an “understanding” close friend or family member in order to help the one going through depression.

Clearly, you don’t understand the problem if you think being sad or happy is in the sufferer’s hands. Moreover, you’ve got to know that depression is a recurring problem caused due to hormonal imbalances, genetics, environmental factors of trauma and stress, and a couple of other disturbing reasons.

So, no, it’s not a phase and it won’t go away completely. It can only be controlled with emotional support and some medical health.

Instead, say: “Sounds like it’s really hard, how are you coping?”
Any day, this sounds more empathetic than dismissing depression as a phase.

depression symptoms
Depression is not a choice made by the sufferer. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Don’t say: “Let’s go out for a party, you’ll get over it”
Again, this shows a lack of understanding, defeating the entire purpose of providing support through empathy. According to several studies, including the one published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, depression is linked to sleep disorders like insomnia as well as fatigue and weakness. Now, how can you possibly expect a drained-out person to party and well, forget all about his/her mental issue? If it was that easy, everyone would have done it.

Instead, say: “I know you’re not in the mood to go out. How about we watch a movie together or just talk or have a meal together at home?”
By saying this, you’re providing emotional support in the comfort of the depressed person’s home, you see.

3. Don’t say: “Your life is perfect, why are you sad then?”
You don’t always have to have struggles, break-ups, poverty or failure to get depressed. According to a study, published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, out of one in 15 depressed people, nearly 40% suffer from atypical depression in which their lives could seem perfectly “put together” on the outside. However, they struggle with depression, sleep disorders, panic attacks, anxiety etc. on the inside.

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‘Smiling depression’ is the common term for it. So, you reminding the sufferer of their seemingly perfect life doesn’t help in this case.

Instead, say: “I want to assure you that I am not here to judge or give my opinion. I’m just there for you.”
Saying this can be helpful according to an article in Cognition Today, a website with psychological science and research insights.

Also read: Peeps, stay-at-home depression is real! Here’s expert advice on how to fight it

4. Don’t say: “Don’t go to a psychiatrist, they’ll just put you on pills”
This is another recipe for disaster as in most cases, depression can only be controlled with professional help. According to a research, conducted at King’s College, London, most people suffering from depression are anyway too reluctant to seek it. You saying this to them can ruin their chances of visiting a psychiatrist for proper treatment further.

Instead, say: “Your feelings are valid. I feel that even though they are valid and true, they may be harming you. I’m a little concerned. Will you seek professional help?”
This way, you make them feel like you’re genuinely concerned and motivating them to seek professional help to stop their condition from harming them more.

5. Don’t say: “It’s all in your head”
For the hundredth, depression is a clinical condition and not an imaginary one. So stop being so dismissive about it.

Instead, say: “You’re important to me and you can count on me to listen to how you feel”
This way, you’re reinstating that you’re trustworthy and that’s what’s needed the most.

So, if you know of someone who has been suffering from depression, keep the above-mentioned pointers in mind to deal with their condition in a more empathetic manner.

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