Recent events, like Robin Williams’ death, have helped propel mental health into mainstream media. It is exciting to see society embracing the conversation and helping to remove the stigma associated with mental health.
As I have gone “public” with my own struggle with depression I have experienced many reactions that have made me feel better and some that made me feel worse. Most people have never discussed mental health issues, let alone directly with someone who is suffering from depression. I know that at the heart of every reaction has always been well intentions and concern for my well being, but there is room for improve me in the delivery of those well intentions.
Discussing mental health is a learning process and I wanted to share some reactions that I would not recommend you say to someone who is suffering from depression.
What NOT to say to Someone with Depression:
You should just go for a run. Have you tried yoga?
Exercise? Oh my goodness! Why didn’t I think of that! Man, I could have skipped the three medical professionals that I am working with and are tailoring a treatment plan for me and just gone out for a quick jog to cure my depression!
Is exercise great for all aspects of physical and mental well being? Absolutely. Is yoga relaxing and a great way to relieve stress? Yes. But when you are clinically depressed doing yoga 24/7 will not cure you.
What is making you so sad?
When asked this question I answer very simply: the chemicals in my brain.
If someone had cancer would you ask them what made their cancer? Depression is not caused by the things in your life that are making you sad, it’s caused by the chemical make up of your brain. When someone is depressed, they are sick and need to find a treatment that is going to help their sickness.
You just need to try think positive.
We are trying. Every time a negative thought runs through our mind, we try to fight it with a positive one, but when you are depressed you feel like you are fighting a losing battle. The negative thoughts are recycling through your head so quickly that you can’t keep up with a positive rebuttal.
What do you have to be depressed about? There are people out there with worse problems than yours.
Trust me, we know. I have run an inventory of how my depression stacks up against all the problems in the world and it only makes me feel worse that I can’t suck it up and get over it. The problem is that it isn’t my problems that are causing me to be depression, it is the chemicals in my brain and I can’t change them.
You are so strong, you will be fine.
Strong is the last thing that you feel when you are depressed. You feel worthless. You feel weak. You feel defeated. You feel exhausted. You do not feel like Chris Hemsworth going into battle as Thor. They may be the strongest person you know, but telling someone how strong they are can only make them feel worse because they are not living up to that expectation.
You just need to get out of the house.
Getting out of the house when you are depressed can seem insurmountable. Think about it this way, you know when you are on the couch and someone says “hey let’s go out”. You weigh if you have the energy and motivation to get up, dress up and show up. If you decide to get up and go out you get to your destination and are energized seeing your friends and have a great time.
When you are depressed, the getting up, getting dressed and showing up feels impossible, but the worst part is once you arrive, you have to mask how terrible you feel. The amount of energy it takes to fake that you are happy is exhausting and it only reminds you how badly you want to feel better.
Sometimes just the energy of convincing your friends that you don’t want to come out can be taxing. You mean well and think that because your friend is depressed they just need some encouragement, but this often only makes them feel worse and more likely to avoid you because you are pressuring them to do something that makes them uncomfortable.
Come out and drink with me, you’ll feel better.
Let’s look at this logically, alcohol is a depressant. You are suffering from depression. Why would you consume something that will alter your thoughts, feelings and actions in a negative way? Maybe you are lucky and don’t feel depressed when you are drinking, but I can guarantee the next day you will feel the withdrawals from the alcohol and feel worse than ever.
If you are taking medication to treat the depression, there can be terrible interactions with alcohol (I learned this the VERY hard way) and prevent the medications from working because alcohol blocks messages trying to get to the brain.
Do you really need medication?
We shouldn’t have to justify what treatment works for us. You would never ask someone who is going through chemotherapy if they really needed it. You trust that they are under medical care and making the best decisions for their health, so please give anyone dealing with mental health the same respect.
What you SHOULD say to someone with Depression:
- You are not alone. I am here.
- I will listen, whenever you feel like talking, I will always listen.
- This is not your fault.
- You are right, this sucks.
- You are important to me and I value having you in my life.
- You will not feel this way forever. We will find a way to help you feel better.
- How are you feeling? (the key to this question is to stop talking and just listen after you ask)
- What kind of thoughts are you having? (this can be a subtle way to ask if they are having suicidal thoughts)
- I would love to spend time with you. Would you like any company today?
- Is there anything that would help you feel a little better today?
- Give them a hug. (Sometimes physical affection can be more powerful than talking)
No matter what you say, taking the time to show someone who is suffering from depression makes a world of difference. Your attention reminds them that they have value and gives them hope.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression there is always help available. Call(1-800-273-TALK) 24/7 or visit Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.