Living with depression is like living in an alternate universe that your brain isn’t equipped to handle. Supporting a friend while they are living with depression can be difficult and uncomfortable. Many people opt to not say anything—and when they do speak up they end up saying the wrong thing. It’s easy to spout out altruistic phrases to a friend with depression, but instead of helping you are actually hurting them.
If you can avoid these 12 phrases you will be in a much better place to support your friend when they need you the most.
1. “It could be worse!”
Attempting to compare your friend’s situation to someone who seems worse off is not a helpful strategy. Depression isn’t based on life circumstance. It’s brain chemistry. Someone could be living what you would consider to be the easiest, best life ever, but the surface impression of someone’s life is not an indication of their internal life/feelings. Comparing their life to others with more trying life circumstances will only make your friend feel worse.
2. “You should count your blessings.”
What might be a helpful strategy for you will not be helpful for someone living under the weight of depression. Thinking of all of the good things in life will not lift the cloud of depression from your friend. It will only heap guilt on top of their already struggling demeanor.
3. “You’re just in a funk.”
Don’t belittle your friends struggle. By claiming that is it just a passing “funk” you are telling your friend that their feelings are not valid. Don’t dismiss feelings that you do not understand.
4. “Have you tried…”
Someone living with depression does not want to be feeling the pain that they are feeling. They have tried everything they know how to try. You suggestions only make your friend feel silly and frustrated. If you personally don’t live with depression, you will never know the depth of the pain and the helplessness that your friend feels. Suggestions from someone without depression only serve to patronize and not support.
5. “I totally understand. I get depressed sometimes too…”
If you think you get “depressed” sometimes, then you do not understand what depression is. Feeling sad or upset is not the same thing as being clinically depressed. Trying to relate to your friend who is in a situation that you have never truly been in will not help your friend feel loved and supported.
6. “You should focus on exercising and healthy eating!”
You should not be making recommendations about about how to cope with a serious mental illness if you’re not a professional. Your friend does not need another “professional” opinion. They need a friend. Physical health is related to mental heath, but chemical imbalances in the brain causing depression cannot be cured by going on a jog and having a salad.
7. “But you don’t look depressed!”
Depression isn’t a style. It doesn’t necessarily affect the viewable surface of someone. People suffering from depression come in all ages, races, genders, occupations and orientations. You can’t assume you understand someones feelings by how they appear to feel. Even if your friends looks healthy and seemingly happy, you should listen to them talk about how they really feel and believe them.
8. “You can beat this.”
Depression isn’t the same as other physical illnesses. You can “get over it” like a cold. Asserting that your friend could “beat” their depression assumes that they’re in control of it. Phrases that assume your friend has power over their mental illness also assumes that they are responsible for how they feel.
9. “Why don’t you just do more of what you enjoy?”
When someone is depressed the things that they would normally enjoy are no longer enjoyable. That is one of the most brutal parts of living with depression. The passions and interests your friend once had have lost their color. Simply crafting, or going for walks isn’t going to cure their mental illness.
10. “You should look on the bright side.”
Saying this implies that you do not understand the reality of depression. There is no bright side. Living with depression means your friend is struggling to find the bright side.
11. “Don’t I make you happy?”
Your friends depression has nothing to do with you. Don’t assume they no longer like you or want to hang out with you because the chemistry of their brain has changed. You’ll only make your friend feel guilty and desperate by making their pain all about yourself.
12. “Happiness is a choice!”
Not when you’re depressed. Reducing your friends struggle to an easy choice to be or not to be happy is overly simplistic and offensive. They aren’t choosing to feel the way they do and they can’t just choose not to feel that way.
By avoiding these phrases and other similar phrases you will be in a better place to understand and support your friend living with depression. They need you to listen, love and support them without attempting to fix their problems.
Featured photo credit: Ryan Melaugh via flickr.com