Remember the game telephone we played as kids? One child whispered a secret to the next, then that child whispered what he or she heard to the next. By the end of the game, the original secret was hilariously distorted. Often, this same thing happens when we try to cheer up a loved one struggling with depression. The message of help and hope is distorted into shame and condemnation.
We all want to be helpful to our family, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, but sometimes we don’t know what to say. We either:
- Say and do helpful things
- Ignore the person, the problem, or both
- Try to help but end up saying and doing hurtful things
10 Things Not To Say To A Depressed Friend
Remember that while you want to help, there are things to do and say that can be beneficial to one who is depressed, but the following statements are usually disheartening. Here are the most commonly offered good intentions:
- “It can’t be that bad.”
- “You’re just having a bad day."
- “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
- “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” OR “Snap out of it.” OR “Get over it."
- “You don’t look (or seem) depressed.”
- “Think about all the people that are worse off than you...” OR "You think you have problems, let me tell you about….”
- “Why are seeing a psychiatrist (or social worker, counselor, psychologist)? They’re a bunch of quacks.
- “Why are you taking meds? They can’t be good for you. And the BIG Book (AA) says you shouldn’t take drugs.
- “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”
- “Have you tried...”
What The Depressed Friend Is Likely To Hear
Depression often comes with feelings of shame, overwhelm, exhaustion, and worry. When those feelings are present, they transcribe the well-intended message of hope and generate these types of responses:
- Here is my list of everything that is going wrong in my life…
- Well, perhaps this will kill me.
- I’d love to look at the bright side, but all I can think about is sleeping, or worse yet dying…
- Yep, it would be great if I could get myself out of bed.
- Of course I’ve never thought about this. (Add sarcasm)
- How could you be so cold and compassionless?
- I'm so depressed that I really don’t care.
All of the above offered good intentions either minimize the person's pain or try to solve the person's problem. They border on being controlling and unkind. Comparative pain almost never cheers someone up, and doctors have yet to find any combination of words that can magically cure depression.
To help a depressed friend or relative, instead try:
- Listening without judging or giving advice
- Validating your friend's feelings
- Letting your friend find his or her own solutions
- Unless your depressed friend specifically asks for your opinion, keep your opinions to yourself. (This is so important that we said it twice.)
For more helpful ideas on how to support a depressed friend, read our article, 10 Things To Say To Someone Who's Depressed.