It is imperative to remember that depression is a medical condition that requires treatment and real medical intervention. While we can choose to be there for our loved ones when they need us, it does not mean that we can also treat their illness. However, listening and responding with kindness and empathy is important. Since we all live in a culture where the mere mention of mental illnesses makes people uncomfortable, it doesn’t come off as a surprise that we are doing it all wrong.
It’s also important to understand this is not about you, so while the phrases you use may seem clear and intelligent from your perspective, the person with depression who is on the receiving end may feel ashamed, misunderstood, or isolated.
Here is a list of some of the most common phrases that people use but absolutely should not be using:
1. “Try Harder”
Having someone tell you to try harder when you are already giving it your best effort is crushing and makes a person with depression feel that their situation is out of control.
There are multiple reasons behind why depression may appear and a person cannot necessarily control all of the risk factors involved and that’s why we don’t get to tell people to just try harder. For someone suffering from depression, it’s not a matter of just “talking themselves out of” a bad mood.
Would you ever tell a person with diabetes to just make more insulin and cure themselves? Like diabetes or hypothyroidism, depression may happen because the body is not making enough of substances it needs to function properly.
2. “Cheer Up!”
You think the person in depression hasn’t already tried to be happier? The term ‘Cheer Up’ is one of the most toxic statements made by well-meaning but ignorant friends. They not only oversimplify the feelings of sadness associated with depression but also gaslight the victim by making them accountable for their illness.
When you tell someone to just shake off their depression, you not only trivialize their condition but also deny their pain.
3. “But You Don’t Look Depressed!”
When I was depressed, I wore short dresses, my favorite bright red lipstick, and went on Tinder dates with complete losers. On other days, I sat in my bathroom crying till three in the morning.
Believe it or not, people with depression may try hard to not look the part. It is common for us to “put on a good face” and hide our true emotions.
Questioning someone’s illness because they don’t ‘look’ the part is cruel and ignorant. It takes real courage to speak openly about mental health issues, so the moment you say something like this, you are establishing that you are not a safe space to bring up mental health.
4. “Count your blessings”
This, again, is a gaslighting statement. It implies that the person is depressed because he or she simply can’t see what they do have and are deliberately choosing to be ungrateful.
5. “But someone out there has it worse than you”
It might be true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the person you’re talking to is still going through a hard time. You see, it doesn’t matter if someone is drowning in 20 feet water, or 8 feet water. The point is both of them are drowning. And it is absolutely ridiculous to say that one kind of drowning is better than the other. The thing is pain is not a race or a competition. Someone will always have it worse than us, but this does not imply that we cannot be upset over our own circumstances.