The bitter part of me wanted to title this post “Sh*t People Should Never Ever EVER Say to Depressed People.” Buuuuut the better part of me decided it probably wasn’t the most approachable (or loving way) to go. #don’tjudgeme 😉
After opening up about my struggles with depression on my blog, I’ve had an overwhelming request over the past two years to post more on the subject. Thank you, thank you, thank you to those who have encouraged me to do so. You know who you are.
Here’s the deal: I want to blow the lid off of clinical depression. I am so over feeling alone. I am so over my friends feeling alone. And I’m mostly over society either turning a blind eye or misunderstanding what depression is altogether. This is my attempt to peel back the layers in a vulnerable and educational way, one post at a time…
For me, depression is like an anchor, a dead weight; like walking through mud. It’s a cloud that sits on the top of my shoulders, sometimes covering my head completely. It’s like a cold night with no covers – never being able to be completely comfortable. But mostly, it’s like walking around in a sort of “Numb Bubble”, watching the world from the “outside”, desperately wishing I could see the rich colors, smell the sweet aromas, and hear real laughter on the “inside”.
Some days it’s feeling like the world will cave in on me. Others, it’s the feeling that I can’t feel a thing. But it’s always, always something I wish I could just will away to be carried off with the wind and yet, when it’s “here”, it just remains.
During the times I’ve struggled with depression, I’ve had some amazing friends who have tried but failed to comfort me, with the sincerest of hearts. I’ve also had the let’s-just-get-over-it-type folks who have either ignored it or minimalized it in an attempt to not feel “uncomfortable” along with me. And then, there are the two or three friends who decided they wouldn’t fake feeling like they understood; they decided it best to just sit in the ugly with me, knowing there was no way to really say or do the right thing.
Because I’d like to spare others from some of the painful things I’ve heard (or thought to myself) over the years, and because I want to empower folks who don’t struggle with depression to be able to truly be there for the ones they love, I’ve created this list that I hope and pray will inspire a fresh wave of empathy in the hearts that read it.
While in true “Deidre fashion” I can get a bit sarcastic, this post is not meant to make anyone feel bad for saying/thinking these things, but rather it’s a way to begin the dialogue and give the non-depressed folks an authentic peek into the hearts and minds of those suffering.
1. “You’re depressed again?”
Yep. I’m depressed again. Thank you so much for that sobering reminder. I’m glad I’m not the only one who remembers how annoying it is that I’m depressed… again.
What it feels like you’re communicating: Here we go again! She seriously needs to move on. This is getting old.
Instead you might say: I’m so sorry, friend. I remember how hard this has been on you in the past. How can I serve you right now?
2. “At least you’re not (fill in the blank)” or, “There are people worse off than you.”
At least you’re not homeless. At least you’re not suicidal. At least you’re not like so-and-so. At least you’ve got a great life. At least you’re not starving in a third world country.
Yes. Thank God Almighty I’m not worse off. I’m so glad you took the time to remind me how much I have. I never thought of that. Now I can feel even worse about feeling worse!
What it feels like you’re communicating: I’m not grateful enough for what I have, or that my depression pales in comparison to something else. Trust me, this is not a reminder an individual struggling with depression needs to hear. Can you imagine what it feels like to have absolutely nothing going “wrong” in your life, and yet you can’t enjoy what’s right in front of you? It’s maddening, trust me. If only we could make our brain chemistry follow our heart’s desire!
Instead you might say: I know you’re suffering and feel trapped. I want to be there for you. This matters. You matter. This is a big deal and I’m with you all the way to the bottom.
3. “Are you reading your Bible & praying enough?”
No. Most definitely not. Besides, what is “enough”, exactly? I probably should have read through the Bible 15 times by now, and should spend at least 10% of my day in prayer. Sigh. If only…
What it feels like you’re communicating: You aren’t relying on God. You don’t trust God. You don’t have enough Faith. And ultimately, God can’t heal you because you didn’t (fill in the blank).
Based upon my understanding of the Bible and through my personal relationship with Jesus, I do not believe I have to “perform” to get God to “do” anything in my life. That Performance Train is a fast and slippery one, and one I jumped on (and off of) early on in my Christianity. It’s a Train that says, “Hurry up! Jump on and get busy! If you want things to move along and head in the right direction you must do things This Exact Way or Else.”
I am not saved by my “works”; I am saved because God first loved me. It had nothing to do with me. Likewise, I don’t believe I have to do any kind of song and dance to get God to bless me or heal me or spare me from anything. Prayer and petition are powerful, and I encourage them. They help us to communicate and receive from God; they bring us closer to Him and remind us that He’s always in tune with our every need and desire.
That being said, this side of Heaven, I only know God in part. I only know a fraction of why things happen the way they do. The one thing I know is this: God loves you and I, totally and longs for us to be healed, whole and Holy. However, I believe that while some breakthroughs happen in an instant, others need to be walked out; some struggles will be removed from us completely, and others won’t be healed until we reach Heaven. While I wish He’d take my depression away now, I trust His judgment completely. His ways are higher than mine. One day my pain will make sense. Until that day, no, I will never read or pray or (fill in the blank with something else spiritual) “enough”. Feel free to pray for me. 😉
Instead you might say: I am so sorry you’re feeling depressed. I am going to pray that God will do what only He can do to comfort and protect you during this season. He is with you at The Bottom as much as He is with you at The Top. How else can I pray for you during this time?
4. “I know exactly how you feel.”
That’s literally impossible. L I T E R A L L Y impossible. No one can know exactly how anyone feels, right? Just like there are varying degrees of “Happy”, there are varying degrees of “Depressed”. And by varying, I mean it’s a very, very, broad spectrum.
What it feels like you’re communicating: When you tell someone you know exactly how they feel about something, it removes the mystery of trying to understand how they feel about that “thing”. It halts the journey of saying, “Let me explore this with you” and instead says, “Oh, I’ve been there. It’s no big deal.” It communicates that my pain can be measured; there is a beginning, middle and end. It limits how huge it is to me.
Instead you might say: I wish I could say I know exactly how you feel, but I don’t. I wish I could understand how dark this place is for you, but I know I can’t. I want to understand what you’re going through. Will you help me to sit in this with you? Help me to understand what you’re going through?
5. “You just need to let loose & be positive.”
You’re right. I do. I need to “let loose” and “be positive”. Wait, what does that mean exactly? Am I being uptight and negative? Ohhhh that’s why I’m depressed. My uptightness and negative mindset are causing me to feel like death. I can fix myself by simply taking a girl’s trip, right? I wish!! (No really, I really wish that would fix it!)
What it feels like you’re communicating: You are doing this to yourself by not doing (fill in the blank). You can easily snap out of it if you just (fill in the blank). That means that I am at fault and need to just do better.
Instead you might say: I know you might not feel up for the girl’s trip we have planned this weekend, but what do you feel like doing? How about just you and I do something that sounds relaxing and rejuvenating to you. You name it, and I’m there!
6. “What do you even have to be depressed about?”
Nothing. Everything. I wish I knew! Sometimes an event triggers depression. However, oftentimes it’s simply the chemical imbalance in our brains that causes it.
What it feels like you’re communicating: It’s absolutely ridiculous that you’re depressed. There’s literally nothing that could be that bad to make you feel this way.
Instead you might say: Is there anything going on that triggered your depression that you’d like to talk about? Is there anything making it worse that I can help with? I am always here for you when you want to talk about it.
7. “You don’t need medication.”
DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. DON’T EVER SAY THIS. Don’t. Just. DON’T.
Unless you are this person’s primary health care physician, psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist, then please, do not give clinical/medicinal advice. Clinical depression is an extremely complex disease. “Depression has many possible causes, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems. Many chemicals are involved, working both inside and outside nerve cells. There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.” (Source)
Your well intentioned “advice” could very well put someone in danger. It’s always best to leave medical advice to physicians.
What it feels like you’re communicating: It doesn’t matter. Just DON’T. DO. IT.
Instead you might say: Make sure you talk all of this over with your doctor. I want you to have the best care possible to be safe and healthy.
8. “Happiness is a choice.”
I seriously can’t handle another person saying this. It sounds so cute and perfect and squishy and magical. But guess what, life is just too complex and so is depression to stick a “Happiness Is A Choice” sticker on it. I do agree that to a certain degree, it is better to try to keep things in a healthy, balanced perspective by “choosing happiness” over “not choosing happiness”. Duh. But what happens when your brain chemistry doesn’t want to choose happiness? Or, what happens when we don’t allow our hearts to grieve hard things in life and we just skip over The Mess so we can be “happy” again? Here’s a great article on Psychology Today, where licensed psychologist Dr. Clifford Lazarus discusses how “Cognitive Therapy” (“changing peoples thoughts from negative biases to more positive patterns”) rarely helps with depression.
What it feels like you’re communicating: You don’t want to be happy. You aren’t trying hard enough to be happy. You are choosing misery.
Instead you might say: I hate seeing your heart hurting. What baby steps can we take together to heal? I am with you every step of the way.
Ultimately, the most important things you can communicate to someone suffering with depression is:
Acknowledgement: I see you. I hear you. I believe you that you’re suffering.
Empathy: I sincerely want to understand, as much as I am able to, what you’re going through.
Action: How can I help? What can we do together to move towards healing?
Comfort: You are not alone.
The truth is, there isn’t much you can say to make me “feel better” when I’m depressed. However, taking the time to listen, sit, and wait with me until the storm is over, that is the best thing you could ever do for me.
If you’ve ever struggled with depression or you haven’t but know others that have, would you share this post everywhere you can? Perhaps include a personal message letting others know how this personally touched or inspired you? You can also re-pin it on Pinterest here.
If You’re Having Thoughts of Suicide:
If you’re struggling with depression and are having thoughts of suicide, please, pick up the phone NOW and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, 24/7. The calls are confidential and FREE.
There’s a million reasons to live, but I know there are moments when it’s too hard to connect with that. Let others help you. You are not alone!
A Little More Information on Clinical Depression (source):
Between 20-25% of adults may suffer an episode of major depression at some point during their lifetime, and it affects about 6.7% of the U.S. population over the age of 18 according to the National Institute of Mental Health. In fact, almost twice as many women suffer from it as men, especially due to hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage and menopause.
Some symptoms may include:
•Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
•Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
•Loss of interest in normal activities and relationships
•Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
•Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping) almost every day
•Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities nearly every day (called anhedonia, this symptom can be indicated by reports from significant others)
•Restlessness or feeling slowed down
•Recurring thoughts of death or suicide
•Significant weight loss or gain (a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month)