What Not to Say to a Depressed Person


depressionisrealThere is nothing worse than feeling like a complete utter failure, crying your eyes out, and then a well-intentioned person comes along and says something that, to your ears, sounds like: “You were right! You are, in fact, a loser.” Good intentions or not, the wrong words hurt. Awhile back, I published a piece,  “10 Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person.” Among the no-no’s were:

  1. It’s all in your head. You need to think positive.
  2. You need to get out of yourself and give back to the community.
  3. Why don’t you try and exercise?
  4. Shop at Whole Foods and you will feel better.
  5. Meditation and yoga are all you need.
  6. Get a new job.
  7. Are you happy in your relationship?
  8. You have everything you need to get better.
  9. Do you WANT to feel better?
  10. Everyone has problems.

Everyday Health’s Andrea Bledsoe, Ph.D., recently compiled her own list of harmful one-liners to say to persons with bipolar disorder:

  1. You’re crazy.
  2. This is your fault.
  3. You’re not trying.
  4. Everyone has bad times.
  5. You’ll be okay — there’s no need to worry.
  6. You’ll never be in a serious romantic relationship.
  7. What’s the matter with you?
  8. I can’t help you.
  9. You don’t have to take your moods out on me — I’m getting so tired of this.

Still more can be found on Margarita Tartakovsky’s list at PsychCentral.com.

So what, on earth, can you say? I found these responses helpful when I was in buried in depression:

  1. Can I relieve your stress in any way?
  2. What do you think might help you to feel better?
  3. Is there something I can do for you?
  4. Can I drive you somewhere?
  5. Where are you getting your support?
  6. You won’t always feel this way.
  7. Can you think of anything contributing to your depression?
  8. What time of day is hardest for you?
  9. I’m here for you.

Published originally on Sanity Break on Everyday Health.

Image: depressionisreal.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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13 Responses
  1. Thank you so much. Oftentimes I feel people say all the “wrong things” because of misconceptions about depression and how it feels to be depressed. This is why I wrote this post recently (What WebMD Doesn’t Tell You About Clinical Depression): http://karenwriteshere.wordpress.com/2013/11/22/what-webmd-doesnt-tell-you-about-clinical-depression/

    As a more experienced professional, perhaps you’d be able to write on this better! Let me know if you feel there’s anything I got wrong.. Thank you! 🙂

  2. Matt Schraeder

    I am so thankful that you included the last set of questions and statements helping people know what to say and ask. As I read through the first two sets of question and statements I understood, and could almost feel the times when those were said to me. Yet, I was wondering what else I would expect anyone to say. That is when I began to read that last list that is so helpful. Thank you for not leaving it hanging on merely what not to say.

  3. Recovered

    Great suggestions. As a person who has suffered (and survived) depression, it has been important for me to hear that 1 — non-judgmental help is available; and 2 — It could and would get better. Guess what? I got help, and I feel better.

  4. Hey Miss Borchard, I’m writing a book about depression. I’m a suicidal teenager. I was wondering if I could use part of your article for my book…the part you wrote. It’s a book designed to help others with the same problems as me, and the people around depressed ones. Please reply ASAP. 🙂

  5. Deborah

    Thank you for this. I have been told at least four of those things when I was depressed… I was forced to get out on my own and had no emotional support, as my mother thought this would “cure” my problems, it was so painful and lonely. I hope this will help to educate people that saying these things is just NOT HELPFUL and hurts a lot as it compounds the depressed person’s sense of failure and hopelessness.

  6. susan

    I am 62 and have fought depression all my life. My children have just about given up on me because I have not turned out the way they would like. I wished I had cancer instead of depression. People are much more understanding. I just found this site and it gives me hope. Some days, weeks, even months are great and then all of a sudden I lash out and hurt the ones I love so much. I can’t blame them for not wanting me around but it still does not take away the pain of loneliness. I have an appt. this Tuesday so I am hoping for something! You said to get out of bed and try and I am. God Bless you for sharing.

  7. Bobbie

    One of the most painful comments I have heard is “Straighten up and fly right,” from a beloved mentor and friend whose spouse committed suicide long ago. I know my mentor always wants the best for me. But I’ve learned that severe depression is not something anyone can snap out of, or will themselves out of. If it was, we’d all be free of it!

    May God bless everyone who has it. Wishing you all long remissions, short and infrequent episodes, the support and understanding of others and excellent care.

  8. Jason

    I grew up with a parent that was (is) severely depressed. They would threaten me with suicide anytime I was “being a kid”. I continue the severe depression gene, without the suicidal tendencies. Thank you, for your inspiration and help.

  9. Angela R Jones

    My husband doesnt understand. He thinks Im lazy and ungrateful. I hate tge stigma of severe depression. No one would ralk to us like that if we were laying in bed witj cancer.

  10. Natalie

    I think the hardest part for me, as someone with treatment resistant depression caused by severe gut issues who has has terrible experiences with therapists and medication is the insinuation that we are somehow choosing this by not getting help. If there was something I hadn’t tried yet, or someone or something that could help, wild horses wouldn’t be able to stop me. I’d be there. I’d take the pill. Some people like me, become dangerously unstable on medication. Dealing with the depression is the safer Option for certain cases.

    It’s isolating as everyone wants to either give unsolicited advice or worse still, takes it personally.

    So if anyone is reading and wants to help a loved one, just listen. ASK what it feels like instead of giving advice for something you have no idea about!!!

    And for those going through it, just remember that you’ve got through it before. We are stronger than we think and the people who judge us wouldn’t last a day in our shoes. Perhaps tomorrow will be kinder but sometimes all we can do is get through the day without blaming ourselves.

  11. Bobby

    I’ve been depressed my whole life. It seems like by now I would have learned how to stop going there, but here I am feeling like nothing is worth living for. I’m stuck in a place that I don’t want to be and I can’t get out.