We know you want to help, but there are right and wrong ways to go about it.
Sadness, disinterest, trouble concentrating, lack of energy…Even if you’re not suffering from depression, you can name the depression symptoms (thanks in part to those ridiculous drug commercials that anthropomorphize umbrellas or wind-up dolls).
But there’s one depression symptom too many people overlook: feeling isolated and misunderstood because of something silly a friend or family member said. (Balance your hormones and lose up to 15 pounds in just 3 weeks with The Hormone Reset Diet.)
Here are 8 comments that—though well intentioned—tend to make things worse for depression sufferers.
The comment: “Why don’t you try to exercise? I’ve heard that’s supposed to help with depression.”
Why it hurts: Despite being an avid marathoner and triathlete, Jennifer, 38, still hears this advice time and time again. “People think it can easily go away, but the depression is innate,” she says. Suggesting an easy fix like going for a run or spending time outside implies your depressed friend may not be doing all she can to alleviate her symptoms, says Nikki Martinez, PsyD, a psychologist and licensed clinical professional counselor. “It’s saying what’s going on is not a true chemical or physical issue, when it is,” Martinez adds.
The comment: “Maybe you just need a vacation.”
Why it hurts: Packing bags and heading off to someplace relaxing isn’t going to alleviate true depression. “The depression stays with them, [and] they may even feel worse because they feel guilty for not feeling better,” says Norman Sussman, MD, a professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
The comment: “I totally get it. After [insert sad event] I was so depressed.”
Why it hurts: Though they’re often conflated, depression and grief are two different things. One is chronic, while the other is an isolated incident, Martinez says. People who are experiencing grief don’t get depression, says Kelsey, 27, who has been suffering from clinical depression and anxiety for 15 years. (Here are 7 things only people with anxiety understand.) “They had a situational run-in with what they think is depression, but they have no idea about the demons I fight every day,” she says of her friends who have dealt with grief.
The comment: “It’s all in your head.”
Why it hurts: Yes, depression is technically caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, Sussman says. But this comment suggests the person suffering from depression has control over it—that if they just thought differently, they’d feel differently. It also glosses over the real, physical pain that depression can cause. “I actually really wish it was [all in my head], but it’s in my whole body,” says Lisa,* 35. “I’ve been physically sick from it more times than I can count.”
The comment: “But you look so happy!”
Why it hurts: You choose the best filters, angles, and lighting for your social media pics. That’s what some depression sufferers are doing whenever they’re with friends. “It’s easy to fake happy,” says Cindy,* 31, adding that her happiness is just a form of marketing. “Some people are very good at masking their depressed state,” Sussman adds. Just because your friend has a smile on her face, that doesn’t mean she isn’t hurting on the inside.
The comment: “Let me know if I can do anything.”
Why it hurts: This commenter often has the best intentions but produces the worst outcomes, Martinez says. “Your actions have to match your words,” she explains. “It’s important that if you really want to be there and help someone, that you do what you say you’re going to do.” If you don’t follow through on those movie night promises or coffee shop get-togethers, your request for a rain check could easily feed your friend’s depression.
The comment: “If there isn’t anything wrong, why are you so sad?”
Why it hurts: This question could spark a nervous frenzy, according to Stephanie, 28, who has been dealing with depression since she was a teenager. “That comment makes my anxiety kick in,” she says. Again, assuming that depression is tied to some event or trigger betrays your fundamental lack of understanding and empathy. (Here are 5 strange, suprising depression triggers you don’t know about.)
The comment: “Smile!” or “Just cheer up!”
Why it hurts: This shows you have a simplistic—and wrong—view of depression. “It’s like telling somebody with a broken leg, ‘Why don’t you just try to walk?'” Sussman says. This comment treats depression like it’s a choice, as if the person suffering is choosing to be in a sad mood. “Nobody chooses to be depressed,” says Cheryl,* 47. “If it were that easy, I’d choose not to be.”
*Some names have been changed to protect sources’ privacy.