As someone who struggles with depression, I have heard so many insensitive things that have only made me feel worse about myself. Here are a few of them, with a short explanation of why they hurt.
- “You’re just lazy”: It’s probably not difficult to understand why this one hurts, but I’ll explain anyway. When you’re depressed, you start losing your motivation to do things and you feel fatigued. This is a symptom of the disorder, and instead of criticizing us for it, maybe be supportive and encourage us to do the stuff we love. After all, depression is as legitimate a medical disorder as a broken leg. You wouldn’t tell your friend in a cast, “You’re just lazy”.
- “Get over it”: Funny enough, those words don’t have the power to magically cure someone of depression. By saying this, you’re sort of telling us that we’re choosing to be depressed, and that all we need to fix ourselves is an attitude makeover. Now, while forcing a smile can make you happier, often depression is caused by a deficit of serotonin that we really can’t just “get over” immediately.
- “Are you sure? You don’t seem like it”: This one particularly hurt when I heard it. I had just confided in a friend that I was depressed, and this was the response I got. Not only is this incredibly insensitive, but it also made me feel like crap afterwards. The truth is, people handle depression differently. While some people might be visibly sad, others might try their best to hide it. So instead of asking “Are you sure?” just assume that whoever you’re talking to has a better handle on his or her situation than you. Instead just offer your support because that will be a million times more helpful.
- “There are people worse off than you”: Don’t you think we know that? Of course there are always people worse off than me! But the thing is, I still feel like crap. I still have trouble getting up in the morning. I still break down every night crying. I know that there are people worse off than me, and my heart and unconditional support goes out to them, but if I’m telling you that I’m depressed, it’s because I need your support too. Just because there are people worse off than me doesn’t mean my depression isn’t as real.
- “Life isn’t fair”: This is what you say to a person who’s been passed up for an award or promotion, not to someone who’s depressed. It sounds like you’re saying that getting depression is just a misfortune, and it suggests that “there are people worse off than you” (see above).
- “Stop feeling sorry for yourself”: While I admit that part of my depression involves the feeling that there’s no hope in my life (which is technically feeling sorry for myself?) saying this is only going to make me feel more selfish/self-involved than I already feel I am. When you say this, you’re just putting the blame once more on the victim, and not recognizing the underlying factors (like brain chemistry, for example).
- “Try not to be so depressed”: Seriously? That’s your change-all advice? If I could not be so depressed just by snapping my fingers, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Try not to say this one.
- “Yeah, I’ve been depressed too”: This one’s not actually that bad until you realize that the person is talking about a few days last semester when they got a C for the first time. While empathy is always a great way to make someone feel better, it usually helps if your experience with depression was actually real. Pretending that your two days of being down in the dumps is the same as my two years of depression is sort of insulting.
If you have anything to add, that would be great, and if you’ve never been depressed but know someone who is, hopefully now you have a better idea of what not to say!