Clinical depression is tough to experience and understand. It consists of a wide variety of mood disorders, which impact lives differently.
Experiencing the peaks and plunges of feeling down or having a bad day is universal - clinical depression is an enduring and debilitating condition. Mood disorders differ but that doesn’t make any of them any less “real” or severe. Misunderstanding the difference between clinical depression and feeling down happens often, especially to someone who has never experienced depression or who approaches it with the view that only illnesses that manifest physically are important or relevant.
For those living with the condition, sometimes the unintentionally hurtful platitudes of family and friends can have a negative impact on how they deal with their depression. Here are some of the worst things you can say to someone living with depression.
1. Pray about it
Prayer may be helpful for them as part of a treatment plan, but offering prayer alone as a solution is dismissive and detrimental. Praying doesn’t make depression go away any more than praying will make climate change go away.
2. Be grateful for the things you have
Instead of invalidating their illness and their current situation by reminding them of what they don’t have to deal with, try to listen to what they’re saying. Be present and pay attention.
3. I know how you feel
No, you probably don’t. You may gain insight into what another person is experiencing, but you will never know exactly how or what they think and feel. Telling someone ‘I know how you feel’ may seem helpful, but can come across as supercilious and insincere.
4. It’ll pass soon
While a healthy person can regroup and change their attitude, clinical depression prevents this. Instead of invalidating their experience as a phase or fleeting feeling, try to listen to their concerns. Conflating clinical depression with the blues is wrong because the latter is an isolated and passing event, while the former is a chronic mental illness.
5. You don’t seem/look sick
Not all illnesses “show” or have tell-tale symptoms. Saying this is akin to telling them they are making up their illness.
6. It’s all in your head
Of course it is all in their head. Chemical and electrical imbalances happen in the brain. Saying “it’s all in your head” suggests the person living with depression can control it as though thinking differently would make them feel differently. It also trivialises the real, physical limitations depression can cause.
7. Pull yourself together
Any variation of pull yourself together/cheer up/smile/snap out of it are all one-dimensional in their view and understanding of clinical depression. Would you suggest to a person with a broken leg to go cycling? Depression is not a choice.
8. Other people have it worse
The fact that you, or other people, are having a difficult time in life doesn’t negate or diminish another person’s depression.
Sources: Psychology Today, #MyDepressionLooksLike (Twitter hashtag started by people living with mental illness), Health.com, Psych Central, Life Hack, Huffington Post, Upworthy