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7 Things NOT to Say to Someone With Depressive Disorder

Depressive Disorder | Paradigm Malibu

If you have a friend or relative with depressive disorder, it’s natural for you to feel helpless. Any type of mental health disorder can be difficult to understand for those not personally affected by it. What seems logical and rational to you, does not always seem logical and rational to someone who is dealing with a mental health illness. It’s can also be hard to understand that people who have depression aren’t choosing to feel the way they do. Knowing how not to respond to someone with a mental health condition can help you to be more sensitive to their plight. Here are 7 things that you should not say to someone struggling with depressive disorder, along with the reasons why.


#1 “Other people have it worse.”


It is likely true that you could tell almost anyone that someone else out there has it worse. Knowing that somebody else is in a more difficult situation does not always make your own situation any better, though. This is true for people who have cancer, who have lost their spouse, and who are homeless, along with those who suffer from depression. Someone with depressive disorder feels terrible. Their sadness is severe enough to interfere with their daily life. In addition, some people with depression end up becoming suicidal. It’s a serious illness that needs treatment and compassion, not comparisons to other illnesses. Rather than accuse your friend or relative of not considering the plight of others, let them know that you are aware that their condition is real and debilitating.


#2 “You can choose to be positive.”


For someone who is not dealing with depressive disorder, it might seem easy to simply take on a more positive mindset. Activities like journaling, mindfulness exercises, and being more grateful can turn around a negative attitude. When someone has depression, however, self-help methods might not be enough. Just as a person with diabetes or cancer cannot simply choose to be well, a person with depressive disorder has the same type of problem. No one would choose to be depressed over not being depressed. Rather than chide your loved one about his or her mindset, ask if there’s anything you can do to help them.


#3 “You’re always such a complainer.”


If someone close to you is confiding in you that they feel depressed or that their sadness is just too much to bear, this is an honor. It means that they trust you enough to share their burdens. If you tell them that you’re sick of hearing their complaints, it’s like a slap in the face. The person does not mean to complain; they are simply expressing their feelings to you. Do the best you can to be understanding and to listen with compassion.


Note that this does not mean you have to spend every waking moment listening to your loved one. Part of caregiving is knowing how to take time for yourself and engage in self-care. It’s okay to tell the person that you need a break and would like to talk about something else for a while or that you need to simply watch the movie (or whatever activity you’re doing together) without talking. Just be kind about it.


#4 “Maybe if you just got out more…”


For someone with depression, sometimes the act of getting out of the house can be very overwhelming. “Just getting out more” is not something that’s easy for them, the way it is for you. Even getting out of bed can be a huge challenge on some days. Of course, many people with depression do find that if they can muster up the energy to get out of the house, they feel a bit better; the problem is that getting to that point is a big undertaking. Suggesting that it’s something simple is insensitive at best and cruel at worst. Instead, offer to spend time with them. You could ask if they’d like you to bring along a friend or even if they might want to sit out on the porch to get some fresh air. Don’t pressure them to join you with something you’re doing out of the house, however.

#5 “Everyone is sad sometimes.”


This is a true statement, but it’s not relevant to your loved one’s struggle with depressive disorder. Sadness is generally short-lived; most of the time, it lasts less than two weeks. Depression is not just sadness, and it lasts for weeks, months, or even years. In addition to sadness, depression can include:

  • physical aches and pains
  • anger
  • lethargy
  • appetite changes
  • trouble sleeping (either not sleeping enough or sleeping too much)

In addition, sadness is self-limiting; depression can lead to suicide. By minimizing your loved one’s struggle and comparing it to sadness, you’re telling them that you don’t understand their situation.


#6 “You’d feel better if you focused on something else.”


It might seem to you that your friend’s or relative’s attention is focused only on their own discomfort and pain. What you might not realize is that their pain is so great that they cannot focus on anything else right now. While it might be frustrating to hear “I” and “me” statements from your friend, it’s even more frustrating for them to not be able to focus on something else. Suggesting that they do so puts the blame for the condition on your loved one. If they could choose to simply focus on something other than themselves and find themselves cured of their depression, then they would do so. The problem is that they cannot do that.


#7 “Have you tried taking vitamin D supplements?”


There are many self-help methods of dealing with mild depression. These can include:

For someone with major depression, however, these methods are not going to be enough. They need to be seeing a counselor or psychologist, and many of them need antidepressant medications. Please don’t suggest that they simply try a home remedy to treat their depression. With that being said, if you are close to the person, you can ask if their doctor has recommended any lifestyle changes and ask if you can help them implement them. For example, if the person’s doctor has suggested that they go for a walk each day, offer to join them.


In Conclusion

Knowing what not to say to someone with depressive disorder is one way to be a good friend to your loved one. If you have made any of these remarks in the past, you can apologize and make the decision not to repeat them. You can also talk to a counselor about ways that you can help a loved one dealing with depressive disorder. Your loved one will appreciate your efforts.

Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.

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