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3 Things Not to Say to Someone Experiencing Depression

2. "You have nothing to be depressed about."

Key points

  • Sometimes we can inadvertently say things that worsen the situation for someone facing depression.
  • Telling someone with depression to "snap out of it" implies that their condition is a matter of choice.
  • Encouraging someone with depression to "just be positive" oversimplifies the complexity of the condition.

Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While well-intentioned, sometimes we can inadvertently say things that can worsen the situation for someone struggling with depression. It's crucial to be mindful of our words and actions when supporting loved ones. Following are three things not to say, inspired by real-life examples from my counseling practice. (Names have been changed to protect privacy.)

1. "Just Snap Out of It": Emily's Struggle

"Emily, why can't you just snap out of it?" Emily's mother exclaimed, her tone tinged with exasperation. Emily had been battling depression for months, finding it increasingly challenging to engage in daily activities or feel any sense of joy. Her mother's words only deepened her feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness.

Why it's harmful: Telling someone with depression to "snap out of it" implies that their condition is a choice or a matter of will. It isn't. Depression is a complex mental health issue influenced by various biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Such comments dismiss the severity of the illness and invalidate the individual's struggles, making them feel misunderstood and unsupported.

Alternative approach: Instead of minimizing the person's experience, offer empathy and understanding. You could say, "I'm here for you, Emily. It's OK to feel this way, and I want to support you through it. Let's find ways together to help you feel better."

2. "You Have Nothing to Be Depressed About": Alex's Dilemma

"But Alex, you have such a good life. Why are you so depressed all the time?" Sarah, Alex's friend, asked with a puzzled expression. Alex had a successful career, a loving family, and a stable relationship, yet the weight of their depression seemed insurmountable.

Why it's harmful: When researching my book, The Anxiety, Depression, & Anger Toolbox for Teens, I saw a lot of research supporting how depression doesn't discriminate based on external circumstances. Even people with seemingly perfect lives can struggle with it. Invalidating someone's feelings by suggesting they have no reason to be depressed can amplify their guilt and shame. It may also deter them from seeking help, fearing they will not be understood or believed.

Alternative approach: Acknowledge that depression can affect anyone, regardless of their life situation. Offer your support by saying, "I understand that depression doesn't always have a clear cause, Alex. You don't have to go through this alone. I'm here to listen whenever you need to talk."

3. "Just Be Positive": James' Experience

"James, you need to think more positively. Stop dwelling on the negative all the time," remarked David, James' colleague, during a team meeting. James struggled to maintain a facade of normalcy at work, concealing the overwhelming despair that consumed him daily.

Why it's harmful: Encouraging someone with depression to "just be positive" oversimplifies the complexity of their condition. Depression is not a choice, and simply changing one's mindset cannot alleviate its symptoms. Such comments can intensify feelings of inadequacy and failure, reinforcing the belief that the individual is somehow responsible for their suffering.

Alternative approach: Express your concern and willingness to support without imposing unrealistic expectations. You could say, "James, I've noticed you've been having a tough time lately. I'm here to listen if you ever need to talk or if there's anything I can do to help lighten your load."

Concluding Thoughts

Supporting someone with depression requires sensitivity, empathy, and understanding. Avoiding harmful statements like these can create a more supportive environment for individuals struggling with mental illness. Instead, offer unconditional support, validate their experiences, and encourage them to seek professional help when needed. Together, we can contribute to a culture of compassion and acceptance for those living with depression.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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