10 Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person


depressed2-512.jpgCBS News and Health.com recently published a nice gallery listing what you SHOULD tell a depressed love one and what you SHOULD NOT.

I have my own list. Here are 10 things you definitely DON’T want to say, a collection of the gems that I heard when well-intentioned people opened their mouths and said something really stupid to me the two years I was in sorry shape.

1. It’s all in your head. You need to think positive.

Upon hearing this, I wanted to throw a life-size figure of Tony Robbins at them. Because, while optimism is certainly important in training the brain, studies have shown that people who are severely depressed or acutely anxious only activate their amydalas (fear center of the brain) by forcing positive thinking

2. You need to get out of yourself and give back to the community.

This is one that certainly made bad things worse. Because now, in addition to feeling severely depressed, a person also feels guilty and self-absorbed. Yes, giving back is important, but only when a person is healthy enough to hold a ladle at a soup kitchen.

3. Why don’t you try and exercise?

This is good advice. Exercise has strong antidepressant effects. However telling someone that they need to exercise is a little like telling someone their butt looks fat in those jeans. You need to hint at it, but not put it directly on the table, or else the person may very well take up kick-boxing and practice with you.

4. Shop at Whole Foods and you will feel better.

Why does this get me? Because 1) I don’t have the money to shop at Whole Foods, and 2) although I know that my diet affects my mood, and the more organic the better, I resent your telling me that my Frosted Flakes is what’s causing power outage in the left frontal lobe of my brain.

5. Meditation and yoga are all you need.

Correction: meditation and yoga may be all that people experiencing mild and moderate depression need. Both are important tools to reduce depression. However, acute anxiety and severe depression are different animals altogether. In fact, my suicidal thoughts worsened with yoga.

6. Get a new job.

Maybe the job is making your loved one depressed. Stress is never a good thing for our health, and especially our emotional health. It pours toxins into our bloodstream. But don’t encourage a major decision while the person is depressed. A balanced perspective is needed. 

7. Are you happy in your relationship?

Again, relationship problems might certainly be triggering the depression, but I’ve talked to too many people who almost left their husbands and wives when they were clinically depressed, thinking that something around them must be the problem. Since a spouse is the closest thing, he or she gets blamed for the mood dips.

8. You have everything you need to get better.

This, of course, implies that all pharmaceutics are toxins that do nothing more than dull your emotions. Guess what? Some forms of modern medicine actually aid recovery!! Seriously! Kind of like chemotherapy for cancer patients, and insulin for diabetes. Would you tell a woman with breast cancer she has everything she needs to get better? No. I didn’t think so.

9. Do you WANT to feel better?

This was my very favorite. Because it suggests that we can will ourselves to be as happy as we want. Want to be a little more giddy? Let me just adjust the optimism lever a tad. There we go … happy again! Again, I do think you do to watch your thoughts, retrain them and retrain them, applying tools for optimism. But I don’t think we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps without any help every time. Please don’t make the person feel like a failure in addition to depressed.

10. Everyone has problems.

CBS covered this one, but it’s important to note again because it comes up so often. Forget about Congo and Bangladesh when talking to a depressed loved one. Some people absolutely do have it worse. But that doesn’t make her pain any less real or profound. Chances are if you do bring it up, she will also feel weak and pathetic … like she has no right to feel the way she’s feeling, which will, of course, make her feel worse.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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