7 Things You Should NOT Say to a Depressed Friend
Here’s a tip: be careful what you say. Sometimes a well-intended statement of support can have a reverse effect. What you say to be helpful can actually be hurtful, adding fuel to the fire. What follows is a list of what NOT to say to a friend who is depressed:
1. “Get over it.”
Depression is not like a light switch that can be flipped on and off at will. It’s a chemistry problem and no two cases are exactly alike. If there were an answer as easy as “Get over it,” depression wouldn’t be much of a problem, would it?
Telling someone with depression to “Get over it” is like telling a deaf person that she would hear better if she cleaned the wax out of her ears. It’s just bad advice.
2. “Get help.”
If delivered earnestly and properly, it might be okay to say. Even then, you might find a better way to say it. If it’s uttered with a tone of disgust or frustration, on the other hand, it’s belittling and demoralizing. It’s rubbing salt into the wound.
If you are sincere about helping a depressed friend get help, consider doing some leg-work yourself. Find a good therapist for your friend. You might even make an appointment for your friend. Maybe even go along the first time and just wait in the waiting room.
3. “You shouldn’t be depressed . . . ”
“. . . look at poor Bill, who has a debilitating disease, or Jane, who has only one arm, or Sue, who is blind. They aren’t depressed, why should you be?” You have so many positive things in your life (or, we had such a great vacation together).
This attempt at reasoning away the depression is futile and again somewhat demoralizing. It’s poor reasoning, too. Bill’s, Jane’s, and Sue’s brain chemistries may not render them prone to depression, so they aren’t depressed.
4. “Think happy thoughts!”
Sure, it might seem to someone inexperienced with depression to be a no-brainer: you’ll be happy if you think happy thoughts.
Depression can’t be wished away with any amount of support for happy thinking. To one in the depths of depression, this may well come across as trite and insulting.
5. “You should be thankful!”
Trying to cheer up a depressed person by extolling her virtues, successes, gifts, or possessions may be well-intended, but it’s not effective. This is another futile attempt at trying to reason away a chemical problem. Assuming a depressed person is not thankful can be deflating rather than uplifting.
6. “I was depressed when my dog died, I know how you feel.”
There’s a difference between being sad and being depressed. It’s normal and natural to be sad and in quite a bit of pain when you lose a beloved pet. That sadness may be nearly debilitating for some, but over time, the pain of grief subsides.
Depression is something someone lives with. It might impact every aspect of a person’s life. It may lift at times and press down hard at other times. Comparing sadness to depression isn’t fair. It unduly minimalizes a depressed person’s plight. Again, if it were as easy as flipping a switch, or allowing time to pass, depression wouldn’t be a problem.
7. “Just cheer up, will ya?”
A depressed person is often well aware how easy it is for others to be happy. The thought of “just cheering up” has probably crossed her mind many times. Depression can’t be willed or wished away. Statements like this may tend to alienate.
It really is hard to know what to say to a friend who is depressed. What you really want to do is show your support, care, and love. Non-verbal communication is sometimes more effective than anything you can say. Try holding your friend’s hand or rubbing her shoulders. Maybe a long hug. Don’t try to fix it (which is essentially what the comments above are doing). Rather, let your friend know that you care and that it’s ok for him to have the feelings he’s having and express them to you. This might sound like, “I’m here for you.”
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