4 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Depression

…and what to say to support them instead.

Posted Nov 26, 2016

 lightwavemedia/Shutterstock
Source: lightwavemedia/Shutterstock

Depression is more than simply feeling sad or being upset—it's a serious mental illness that impacts more than 15 million adults in the United States. With early intervention, diagnosis, and access to effective treatment, many individuals with depression can improve and enjoy meaningful lives. However, if untreated, depression can have devastating consequences for afflicted individuals and their loved ones.

Unfortunately, depression is often misunderstood, and it can be difficult to know what to say to someone who is living with it. Following are four things that you should never say to someone struggling with depression:

1. "You really need to snap of out it."

Telling someone with depression to “snap out of it,” is akin to telling someone with a broken leg to “just walk.” Having a mental illness is not a choice. No one chooses to feel paralyzing levels of depression; if a person was able to control their symptoms of depression, they would. Telling someone to “snap out of it," then, is highly invalidating and insinuates that someone is deciding to suffer from depression.

Instead, ask the person what you can do to support them. If the person is struggling to come up with ideas, suggest some activities that you used to enjoy together. They might not “feel like it,” but engaging in such activities could help improve their mood and at least reduce their sense of isolation.

2. "There are other people who have it worse off than you."

This statement is often an attempt to help the person with depression to feel better, but it usually has the opposite effect. Depression is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Someone’s depression can be triggered by an external event, but often there is no known external trigger. This statement also invalidates the person’s feelings and might cause them to feel guilt and shame.

Instead, express to the person that you want to support them as best you can. You might also try to validate the person’s feelings by saying something like, “It seems like you are in a lot of pain right now and are really struggling. I want you to know that I’m always here for you and that you don’t have to go through this alone.”

3. "Happiness is a choice."

Though well-intentioned, this statement also insinuates that a person is choosing to experience depression. If simply “choosing to be happy” was the cure for depression there would be no need for therapists, antidepressants, or treatment centers. Depression is a serious mental illness that, in part, stems from chemical imbalances in the brain. A person struggling with depression needs access to proper treatment and support, not a motivational speech.

Instead, express to the person that how important it is to get help and support from trained professionals. You can also affirm that you know that they aren’t choosing to feel this way and that you are there to support them however you can.

4. "But you don’t look depressed."

There is no way to tell if someone is struggling with depression based on their external appearance. Some people have learned to mask their depression with smiling selfies and pronouncements about their accomplishments.

When someone tells you that they are suffering from depression, it is critical that you take their statements seriously. Instead of making judgments, validate their feelings and express that you want support them.

The Bottom Line

By avoiding stigmatizing statements, you can help eradicate some of the shame associated with having a mental-health diagnosis. Studies show that shame and fear of being judged are reasons that people with mental illnesses often avoid seeking treatment. This is why it's crucial to be compassionate toward someone struggling with depression.

Blogger Heather Rayne sums up what it's like to struggle with depression:

"Living with depression can feel like constantly trying to climb out of a deep, muddy hole with an armful of sandbags. Everything seems so much more difficult—even getting out of bed in the morning can be a monumental feat. The simplest tasks can be a dreaded challenge. Nobody wants to feel this way. And they are not doing this to anyone. It is happening to them and sadly, others are caught in the crossfire. But eventually the bullets will stop flying, the smoke will clear, and blissful, fulfilling lives and relationships appear just beyond the horizon."

Monica Alman Photography
Source: Monica Alman Photography

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a psychotherapist specializing in working with adolescents, eating disorders, survivors of trauma, anxiety, and depression. Jennifer also offers eating disorder recovery coaching for adolescents and adults in need of additional support in their recovery. Connect with Jennifer through her website.