To most who know me, it’s no secret that I’ve dealt with depression for a large portion of my life. Ever since my early teens, I’ve suffered from intense feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness, and even suicide. This depression was worsened after I had my daughter. Postpartum was literally almost the death of me, but I managed to survive thanks to some lucky circumstances and wonderful people who loved me enough to help me. Since I’ve struggled with this problem for nearly 20 years, I’m serious when I say I know a thing or two about what hurts when those who don’t understand depression try to help or understand in the worst possible ways. I’m not one to begrudge anyone’s good intentions, but sometimes it’s important to get some information out in the open just to make it all a little clearer for those who truly do want to help and don’t quite exactly know how. Here are a few things I’ve heard through the years that have rubbed me the wrong way — and some possible things to say instead.
1. Isn’t it just all in your head? If you try hard enough, you can make yourself happy. Happiness is a choice.
Why, yes, it is all in my head. Correct! Clinical depression — at least the kind I have — is caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain. No amount of thinking or wishing is going to fix it. Happiness isn’t a choice when something is physically taking that choice away.
What to say instead: I’ve heard it’s a chemical thing and very hard to deal with. Would you like some help or support in finding a treatment for this?
2. You should not take medication. Medication is bad.
Unless you’re a doctor I’ve chosen to visit or I have specifically asked you, I don’t want to hear your medical advice. Someone’s choice to take medication is a very personal decision that is only between them and their physician. If you’re a loved one and see a possibility of the prescribed medication harming a person without them realizing it, then you might have a right to step in, but unless you’re invited to help, please don’t contribute to a person’s already fragile depressive state by belittling their decision or by trying to talk them out of it. Finding the correct medication, or balance of medications, can take months and months, sometimes years. During that delicate time period, it’s important for the person to receive as much support as possible.
What to say instead: I’ve heard medication can really help some people. I’m happy you’re trying something you feel might solve some of these problems you’ve had in your life.
3. Depression isn’t real.
Happiness isn’t real, either, I suppose. Or anger. Or love. Or any of our emotions, since they’re all just a combination of some chemicals in our brains and bodies. Seriously, think twice before believing depression isn’t real, and if you still can’t believe it’s real, at least don’t tell someone suffering from depression that it isn’t real.
What to say instead: I have a hard time understanding depression at all. Is there a place I can go online or a book I can read that will help me learn more about it?
4. I know how you feel. I dealt with depression for awhile once. It was horrible.
There are “the blues” and being sad, which everyone has experienced to some point, and then there’s clinical depression. Even though they can both be difficult, they are two very different things. I get down about life every now and then; it feels quite different from my clinical depression.
What to say instead: It must be terrible for your depression to feel like it will never go away. I’m here to help you get through it.
5. Are you sure you aren’t getting depressed as a way to get attention? Maybe you should try serving others so you can see how good your life really is. That will snap you out of this.
Yes, I’m drowning myself in grief and pain and misery just so people will pay attention to me. It’s totally in my control. This is very, very untrue. Even if a person suffering from depression desires attention, it’s usually only a plea for help to get out of the depression — not because they’re selfish. Telling someone with depression that other people have it worse off than they do will not help. In fact, it will only make things worse, guaranteed.
What to say instead: I’m not going to abandon you, even if your depression frustrates me.
Clinical depression is often something a person will deal with their entire life. I’m finally in a good place thanks to medication and support from loved ones, but I know my depression will never truly go away. If you care for someone who suffers from depression and you want to help, don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Just use your common sense and learn all you can. If you truly care, it will shine through no matter what. Most of all, be there. If the person doesn’t seem to want you there, be there on the sidelines just in case. It has often been the “sideline people” in my life who have helped pull me up at the last minute, and for that I am truly grateful.