When we have friends, family, or co-workers with depression, we can struggle to come up with encouraging or empathetic words. While it is important to show support, words can be unintentionally harmful. Below are ten phrases to avoid.
1. “You’ll get over it”
“Getting over it” understates and trivializes the struggle of depression. The symptoms of depression are also out of one’s control. If someone could will themselves to get over it, they would have done so. Instead, empathize with their feelings, and let them know that you’re there to support them through tough times.
2. “It’s not a big deal”
Depression is a big deal. It is a physiological illness that has as many (or more) consequences as physical illnesses. In the same way that you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm that “it’s not a big deal,” avoid undermining the pain of a mental illness. Instead, let them know that their pain is real, and that you’re proud of them for pushing through.
3. “Everything is great!”
Being overly and insincerely cheerful can remind someone with depression of their inability to feel pleasure. A well intended positive spirit is appreciated, but in excess can make the other person feel guilty for being unable to see the same joy. Instead, ask them about their day and take the time to listen.
4. “You should…”
In general, comments that tell people what to do can be taken the wrong way. It may seem harmless to offer advice on exercising, eating, or socializing, but each person has their own way of dealing with depression. As a result, generic advice can come off as patronizing. Instead, phrase suggestions as “how would you feel about…” or “would this make you feel better?”
5. “You don’t look like you have depression”
As with many other conditions, the symptoms of depression worsen over time. Moreover, most people who have depression make an effort to mask their condition. Therefore, telling someone that they look fine may undermine the symptoms that they’re struggling with internally. Instead, ask them to tell you about how they feel on the inside.
6. “It’s just a bad day”
Clinical depressive disorder is different from a wave of sadness that goes away in a day or two. It is a chronic health disorder that often requires professional treatment to alleviate symptoms. Making statements that reduce clinical depression to a “bad day” undermines the severity of the condition. Instead, ask them how you can help them feel better.
7. “Think about all the great things you have”
People with depression can have great relationships, successful careers, and generally great lives. Celebrities such as Demi Lovato and the late Robin Williams had all of those, yet still battled mental illness. Therefore, it is unfair to tell someone that they shouldn’t have a mental illness because the other circumstances in their life seem to be going well. Instead, offer your understanding and support.
Long story short
Avoiding statements that undermine the severity of the condition will help you best communicate good intentions. Always remember that depression is a serious condition, and anyone who opens up to you about it is putting themselves in a very vulnerable position. Your care and support is always appreciated, but be conscious that your words aren’t unintentionally hurtful. However, at the end of the day, don’t let a fear of not knowing what to say prevent you from giving someone the support they need. The worst thing you can do is nothing at all.