October 27, 2013

What not to say to a depressed person

If you are dealing with a depressed person, you might be pretty frustrated and irritated. 

At least that's how I felt when my mother was depressed.  I was so frustrated that I wanted to just shake some sense into her.  That was before I knew Major Depression myself.

Please realize that the depressed person's brain is not functioning properly.  Let that be your fallback thought when you get frustrated, "He's not trying to frustrate me on purpose, his brain isn't working right."

Here are some things that you should probably not say.  These comments will not help your friend or family member.  In fact, they may make him feel worse.

"What are you depressed about?”

There may be a situation that is depressing him, and maybe he doesn’t really want to talk about it. 
Or he may not be able to come up with a reason, and then you have made him feel stupid on top of his depression.  Sometimes brain chemistry changes without a clear reason.
Just don't ask this. 

“You have so much to live for!   Why would you be depressed ?”

The person likely knows if he has good things in his life. 

If you remind him of this, you'll make him feel guilty for being depressed because he "should" be happy.  it will just add guilt to his depression.  
Just don't ask this, either.


“Just don’t think about it.”

People say this when the depressed person is obsessing about something. The person cannot just not think about it.  It’s like if someone says, “Don’t think of a kitchen sink;” then all you can think of is a kitchen sink. 
Instead, help the person find something else to put his mind on.  Maybe you can help him place his thoughts on the present, the sights, sounds and sensations affecting him right now; that can be helpful.

“Don’t say that.  You don’t mean that.”

Yes, he does mean that.  Don’t tell him he doesn’t. 

Maybe you could just say, "I'm sorry to hear that."

“I know how you feel.”

No, I assure you, you do not. 
Even if you have suffered from depression, everyone experiences it differently.

“C'mon!  Just cheer up!”

He can't.  He would if he could. This is like telling a diabetic, “C'mon!  Just change your blood sugar!”  

“Don’t cry.”

He doesn’t want to cry and he would stop if he could.  Tears can be cleansing.  
Just offer to get him some tissues. 

"Don't feel that way!"

They're his emotions; allow him to own them.  In his mind, his thoughts are perfectly reasonable. 
You might say, "I don't agree with that," or "I wish you didn't feel that way."

"I'm worried about you."

Worry doesn't help anyone.  And it makes it sound like he's responsible for your feelings.  He is not.  You are.
Just tell him you care about him.

"You just need to (take this vitamin, eat this fruit, do this exercise, go to this doctor, read this book, think this way, blah, blah, blah.)"

If he is seeing a doctor, let the doctor do her job.  If not, encourage him to go to his primary care provider.  Offer to go with him if he wants you to, but don't insist on it.

"You're just doing this to get attention."

If you say this, you are telling him that what he is feeling is unimportant and frivolous.
Especially if the person sounds like he wants to kill himself, take him seriously.  Call your local crisis services. 

The most important thing is that he knows you are there for him.  

If you are uncomfortable with the depressed person's behavior, please educate yourself on major depression.  There are lots of agencies and web sites you can learn from.  You could start with National Alliance on Mental Illness or the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

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