Depression is a mental illness. It comes in many forms and severities and can be displayed differently per person. Being a friend/spouse/parent/child to people who suffer from the disease can be challenging. You may get frustrated with them, annoyed by their mood swings or upset because you do not understand how to help them. While not every person is the same, here are 4 phrases you should definitely avoid saying to your friend with depression.
1. “Just get over it”
Telling people with depression to get over it is probably one of the worst things you could say. This phrase is basically saying their pain, their feelings and what they are going through does not need to be addressed. It makes them feel like you do not need to take time to evaluate how they are feeling and like you need to put their feelings aside and move on. It also suggests that getting over it is easy for them to do-like it is simple to just dismiss what is happening to them and to pretend it is not a big deal.
Instead of telling them to get over it, acknowledge what is happening to them. If they are upset, sad or anxious, tell them you can see they are feeling that way. Then, try to talk through it. Don’t rush through their issues. Let them take the time they need to express what is happening to them.
2. “It’s not that bad”
Everyone has their own problems. What you are going through may not be that big of a deal to someone else, but it is to you. When your friends tell you their problems, and you tell them (even in a supportive tone) things are not that bad, you are downplaying their problems. Yes, there are other problems in the world: people starving, being killed and fearing for their lives. But this does not justify telling people with depression that their issues are not that bad. To them, their feelings make up their entire views on life; their feelings are their worlds. It can make them feel even worse if you tell them their problems are not that bad. Now, not only are they upset about what they are feeling, but they are also upset they are having these feelings when there are so many other “bigger” issues going on in the world.
Try showing empathy instead of showing them how someone else is going through something much worse. Be a listening ear and shoulder to cry on. Be a friend.
3. “Be happy”
Telling someone with depression to be happy is like telling someone in a wheelchair to walk. Depression is an illness. It can be treated in different ways (counseling, medications, etc.), but it is not something that can be fixed by a person just deciding he/she will be happy from now on. It is hard for people without depression to truly understand a person who suffers from it. We all have down days, and when you do not have depression, you can decide to just be happy: you can be positive and move on past your bad mood. It is not that simple for people with depression. Understanding this is the first step to understanding them.
Instead of telling them to be happy, be the example. Stay positive, be their cheerleader and remind them of what is good in their lives. It may not pull them out of their depression quickly, but them knowing they have someone who is supporting them through their down times helps; it really does.
4. “You’re always like this”
People with depression already know they are “always like this.” They know better than anyone because they are the ones feeling these emotions. They may not always say when they are going through something difficult, so they may be suffering even more than you know. Reminding them they are grumpy, sad, negative or tired does not help.
Be understanding of them. Ask how you can help. Try going to a counselor yourself to find out how to help them. It can be hard on you when you have a relationship with a person suffering from depression. You may not understand how to act around them; you may not know how to help them. Going to a counselor can be just as helpful for you as it is for the person suffering from depression.
To be a true friend means to stick by people through the good and bad times. Hopefully, whoever are suffering from depression in your life will learn how to control it, find methods that work for them and get through the rough times. This does not mean they are cured; they may suffer from the disease their whole lives. But being there for them when they really need you is important. Don’t give up or walk away from your friends with depression, and make sure you are okay as well. If you are in danger of being affected negatively by a friend, then seek help. Figure out how both of you can learn and grow together in a healthy, loving way.