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12 Things You Should Never Say to a Person Struggling with Depression

12 Things You Should Never Say to a Person Struggling with Depression

Depression can be a tough illness to understand, especially for those who have never experienced it themselves. Many people misunderstand the difference between clinical depression and feeling sad or blue. Approaching depression like the physiological illness it is is key to supporting a friend or colleague with depression. It’s also helpful to realize that medical treatment for depression often does not include medication, and professionals will know better how to react to someone in crisis. While clinical depression is a shifting, troublesome illness, it is something you can approach helpfully and supportively by avoiding some key missteps.

1. “You’re freaking out over nothing.”

Depression and mood disorders tend to involve peaks and valleys of extreme emotions. If you belittle the problems someone is experiencing, they’ll feel attacked and it may make the problem worse. While you might have a different perspective on their situation, that doesn’t change how strong their feelings are, which is the real problem. The chemical and electrical imbalances that cause mental health problems will still be present, even if the person struggling has no responsibilities.

Instead, try to be a sympathetic ear. Understand that this person’s mood will bottom out without any change in external factors. Identify with the person and let them know you understand that their health is often independent from outside problems. Most of all, let the person vent without judgement.

2. “It’s your own fault.”

Never tell a depressed person that they are struggling because of their own actions. Just like most other illnesses, people with depression have no say in whether or or not they are affected. Scientists suspect mood disorders are a result of both genetic predisposition and social factors, so people who struggle with depression did not choose to become sick and shouldn’t be treated as such.

In place of accusing a depressed person of not trying hard enough, acknowledge what a struggle it is to keep going when you are ill. Let the person know that you think they’re brave for sticking it out.

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3. “It will pass.”

Never tell a person depression will pass on its own. Every illness will fluctuate with how serious it is, but illness generally doesn’t go away by itself. Medical treatment is necessary for most people struggling with depression. Even if someone is in a depressed state, but doesn’t struggle with clinical depression, it is always better to err on the side of caution. Additionally, many voices today condemn those who struggle with clinical mood disorders.

Be a supportive voice that lets your friend know what they deal with is a real problem. Try telling the person that depression is a real medical issue and must be difficult to deal with. Encourage them to seek medical treatment, even though others may be misinformed about how serious mental problems are.

4. “What about your lifestyle?”

Don’t look for a scapegoat for your friend’s medical problems. Sure, some actions have an effect on our mood, but a perfectly balanced life would never have the power to completely cure a pre-existing medical problem. In this way, poor lifestyle decisions are often an effect of clinical depression, rather than a cause. Making different choices in the future might help your friend with depression, but first, they need to recover enough to even make well-thought out decisions.

Rather than questioning the persons lifestyle, empathize, then highlight some things that may help them. Remind them that small decisions can aid their recovery. Offering to regularly go for a walk with them for example, is more encouraging than putting down their current decisions. Ultimately, remind them that small acts help recovery, but don’t take the place of medical treatment.

5. “Being depressed is better than … “

Minimizing a depressed person’s problems may seem like you’re giving them perspective, but in fact, it makes the depress person feel as though you think they are making up their illness. While a healthy person can step outside their perspective and change their attitude, clinical depression prevents normal thinking.

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Instead of reminding the person what they don’t have to deal with, try to listen to their concerns and validate that depression is a troubling medical condition. Again, regardless of outside stress, mental problems will sometimes be worse than others. Simply showing concern for the person is much more helpful, and won’t make them feel like their condition is being minimized.

6. “Try thinking positive.”

Even though mental problems exist in the brain, a change in thought is not enough to overcome the problem. Studies show that mental health problems of all kinds, including depression, are caused by chemical and electrical imbalances in the brain. This means a depressed person’s brain does not have the capacity to dwell on positive thoughts and feelings. Telling someone with depression to think their way out of it is a bit like telling a diabetic to think happy thoughts, instead of giving them insulin.

As an alternative, try telling the person it must be incredibly grueling to lose the ability to think positive. Validating the illness of a person with depression is helpful because as they learn more about what causes their condition, they will be better equipped to manage it.

7. “Have you tried exercise?”

Much like positive thinking, exercise is not a cure for health problems, but rather, merely an action with positive effects on health. Exercise is helpful in providing some mood boosting chemicals to a person, but only if their brain is already mainly healthy. Someone with depression needs medical treatment, much of which does not involve medication, in order to get healthy enough to have energy to exercise.

In place of suggesting exercise as a cure, sympathize that it must be hard to have a condition that zaps your energy and motivation. Validate that this person’s condition has a massive effect on what they can accomplish, and new habits will not be enough to overcome it entirely. You can offer to accompany this person regularly for a quick walk or jog without suggesting that exercise is a cure all for their condition.

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8. “Find a new job.”

Another seemingly helpful suggestion that actually isn’t very useful is suggesting that the depressed person get a new job. While work related pressures can certainly exacerbate mental health problems, a lack of stress does not cure serious medical problems.

Instead, show concern that work pressure isn’t making it easier for them to recover from depression. Validate their problems, which may include work stress, but still get to the root of the issue, which is physiological brain imbalances they can’t control.

9. “Count your blessings.”

Again, usually someone is trying to give the person with depression perspective when they say this, but ultimately, it can just make the person feel worse. Someone with depression isn’t just feeling down; they’re experiencing a state of illness. Though numbering the good things in life might help too accentuate the positive, it isn’t a whole solution for someone with medical problems. Not only that, the person has likely already tried many times to pull themselves out of depression with no success.

In lieu of suggesting that this person’s attitude is the problem, let them know that depression gets in the way of someone realizing the positive things in life. Empathize that it must be terrible to have your brain play these kinds of tricks on you and you realize that the person is trying their best to recover. Offer support, and let them know you will always be willing to lend an ear if they need to talk.

10. “Everyone has problems.”

By equating someone struggling with depression to someone with responsibilities, we misunderstand the root of depression. Someone with responsibilities is capable of overcoming problems with hard work. Unfortunately for all of us, hard work is not the only thing needed to overcome illness. When you compare other problems with depression, you run the risk of belittling a depressed person’s struggle.

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A better way to approach this would be to remind the person that they’re not alone in struggling with mental health. Remind them that depression is a real, physiologically based illness that affects many. Because so many people are affected, many treatment options are available to help them recover, even though depression can feel like a tunnel with no end.

11. “Don’t feel sorry for yourself.”

This is also a misunderstanding of where depression comes from. Clinical depression is different from getting the blues, and requires much more than a change in perspective to turn around.

As an alternative to telling your depressed friend to avoid feeling sorry for themselves, acknowledge that they are likely not able to think beyond the curtain of depression. Identify that it must be difficult to be forced into such a state of being.

12. “I know how you feel.”

Although this phrase might seem helpful, saying you know how your depressed friend is feeling can actually be patronizing. Feeling depressed as a healthy individual is very different from clinical depression, so equating the two is harmful. Clinical depression is not a temporary state, and can sometimes last years. The person in question is struggling to feel any hope for months and months on end, which is something you really only experience if you’ve had clinical depression.

Instead, try telling your depressed friend that you’ve had periods where you felt depressed and it was awful, but that experience only begins to show you how serious their condition is. Empathize that a bigger, more complex version of your feelings must be truly punishing to get through. If you have struggled with clinical depression though, it is usually helpful to let them know that you really do know how they feel.

Featured photo credit: ryan melaugh via flickr.com

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Alicia Prince

A writer, filmmaker, and artist who shares about lifestyle tips and inspirations on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

How to Say No When You Say Yes Too Often

Do you say yes so often that you realize you aren’t really happy about this, wondering how to say no to people?

For years, I was a serial people pleaser. Known as someone who would step up, I would gladly make time especially when it came to volunteering for certain causes. I proudly carried this role all through grade school, college, even through law school. For years, I thought saying “no” meant I would disappoint a good friend or someone I respected.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed I wasn’t quite living my life. Instead, I seem to have created a schedule that was a strange combination of meeting the expectations of others, what I thought I should be doing, and some of what I actually wanted to do. The result? I had a packed schedule that left me overwhelmed and unfulfilled.

It took a long while but I learned the art of saying no. Saying ‘no’ meant I no longer catered fully to everyone else’s needs and could make more room for what I really wanted to do. Instead of cramming too much in, I chose to pursue what really mattered. I started to manage my time more around my own needs and interests. When that happened, I became a lot happier. And guess what? I hardly disappointed anyone.

The Importance of Saying No

When you learn the art of saying ‘no,’ you begin to look at the world differently. Rather than seeing all of the things you could or should be doing (and aren’t doing), you start to look at how to say yes to what’s important.

In other words, you aren’t just reacting to what life throws at you. You seek the opportunities that move you to where you want to be.

Successful people aren’t afraid to say no. Oprah Winfrey considered one of the most successful women in the world confessed that it was much later in life when she learned how to say no. Even after she had become internationally famous, she felt she had to say yes to virtually everything. It was only when she realized that after years of struggling with saying no, I finally got to this question: “What do I want?”

Being able to say no also helps you manage your time better.

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Warren Buffett views no as essential to his success. He said,

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

When I made ‘no’ a part of my toolbox, I drove more of my own success focusing on fewer things and doing them well.

How We Are Pressured to Say Yes

It’s no wonder a lot of us find it hard to say ‘no.’

From an early age, we are conditioned to say ‘yes.’ We said yes probably hundreds of time in order to graduate from high school and then get into college. We said yes to find work. We said yes get a promotion. We said yes to find love and then yes again to stay in a relationship. We said yes to find and keep friends.

We say yes because it feels better to help someone. We say yes because it can seem like the right thing to do. We say yes because we think that is key to success. And we say yes because the request might come from someone who is hard to resist like the boss.

And that’s not all. The pressure to say yes doesn’t just come from others. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves. At work, we say yes because we compare ourselves to others who seem to be doing more than we are. Outside of work, we say yes because we feel guilty we aren’t doing enough to spend time with family or friends.

The message no matter where we turn is nearly always, “You really could be doing more.” The result? When people ask us for our time, we are heavily conditioned to say yes.

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How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty

Deciding to add the word ‘no’ to your toolbox is no small thing. Perhaps you already say ‘no’ but not as much as you would like. Maybe you have an instinct that if you were to learn the art of ‘no’ that you could finally create more time for things you care about. But let’s be honest, using the word ‘no’ doesn’t come easily for many people.

The 3 Rules of Thumbs for Saying No

1. You Need to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Let’s face it. It is hard to say no. Setting boundaries around your time especially you haven’t done it much in the past will feel awkward.

2. You Are the Air Traffic Controller of Your Time

Remember that you are the only one who understands the demands for your time. Think about it, who else knows about all of the demands on your time? No one. Only you are at the center of all of these requests. are the only one that understands what time you really have.

3. Saying ‘No’ Means Saying ‘Yes’ to Something That Matters

When we decide not to do something, it means we can say yes to something else. You have a unique opportunity to decide how you spend your precious time.

6 Ways to Start Saying No

Incorporating that little word ‘no’ into your life can be transformational. Turning some things down will mean you can open doors to what really matters. Here are some essential tips to learn the art of no:

1. Check in With Your Obligation Meter

One of the biggest challenges to saying ‘no’ is a feeling of obligation. Do you feel you have a responsibility to say yes and worry that saying no reflect poorly on you?

Ask yourself whether you truly have the duty to say yes. Check your assumptions or beliefs about whether you carry the responsibility to say yes. Turn it around and instead ask what duty you owe to yourself.

2. Resist the Fear of Missing out (FOMO)

Do you have a fear of missing out (FOMO)? FOMO can follow us around in so many ways. At work, we volunteer our time because we fear we won’t move ahead. In our personal lives, we agree to join the crowd because FOMO even while we ourselves aren’t enjoying the fun.

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Check in with yourself. Are you saying yes because of FOMO or because you really want to say yes? More often than not, running after fear doesn’t make us feel better.

3. Check Your Assumptions About What It Means to Say ‘No’

Do you dread the reaction you will get if you say no? Often, we say ‘yes’ because we worry about how others will respond or the consequences of saying no or because of the consequences. We may be afraid to disappoint others or think we will lose respect from others. We often forget how much we are disappointing ourselves along the way.

Keep in mind that saying ‘no’ can be exactly what is needed to send the right message that you have limited time. In the tips below, you will see how to communicate your no in a gentle and loving way. You might disappoint someone initially but drawing a boundary can bring you the freedom you need so that you can give freely of yourself when you truly want to.

4. When the Request Comes In, Sit on It

Sometimes, when we are in the moment, we instinctively agree. The request might make sense at first. Or we typically have said yes to this request in the past.

Give yourself a little time to reflect on whether you really have the time, or can do the task properly. You may decide the best option is to say ‘no.’ There is no harm in giving yourself the time to decide.

5. Communicate Your ‘No’ with Transparency and Kindness

When you are ready to tell someone no, communicate your decision clearly. The message can be open and honest to ensure the recipient that your reasons have to do with your limited time.

Resist the temptation not to respond or communicate all. But do not feel obligated to provide a lengthy account about why you are saying no.

A clear communication with a short explanation is all that is needed. I have found it useful to tell people that I have many demands and need to be careful with how I allocate my time. I will sometimes say I really appreciate that they came to me and for them to check in again if the opportunity arises another time.

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6. Consider How to Use a Modified ‘No’

If you are under pressure to say yes but want to say no, you may want to consider downgrading a “yes” to a “yes but…” giving you an opportunity to condition your agreement to what works best for you.

Sometimes, the condition can be to do the task but not in the time frame that was originally requested. Or perhaps you can do part of what has been asked.

Final Thoughts

Beginning right now, you can change how you respond to requests for your time. When the request comes in, take yourself off autopilot where you might normally say yes.

Use the request as a fresh request to draw a healthy boundary around your time. Pay particular attention to when you place certain demands on yourself. If you are the one placing the demand on yourself, try to evaluate the demand as if it were coming from somewhere else.

Try it now. Say no to a friend who continues to take advantage of your goodwill. Or, draw the line with a workaholic colleague and tell them you will complete the project but not by working all weekend. Or, tell someone in your family you can’t loan them money again because they never paid you back the last time. You’ll find yourself much happier.

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Featured photo credit: Chris Ainsworth via unsplash.com

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