10 Things Not to Say to Someone with Depression

The stigma of depression can cause deep-seated shame.

I’ve suffered with depression for a long time, which means I’ve also suffered through ignorant, and sometimes just mean, comments. I realize some people may have good intentions but it still can sting. The stigma of depression is still very much alive and comments like the ones below may be why some people suffer in silence. But they shouldn’t have to. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 15 to 20 percent of people. It’s scary, debilitating and seriously misunderstood, but it doesn’t have to be.

I’m hoping through my blogs I’ll help chip away at the stigma. Below are some of the most common things I hear.

1. You need to get out more — get some fresh air and sunshine. Breaking down this comment is kind of hard because fresh air and sunshine are beneficial, BUT they alone will not cure depression. When this has been said to me I usually am so depressed that getting out of bed wears me out for the day and even thinking about expending more energy stresses me out.

2. It could be worse. It’s not like people with depression don’t have perspective, but this comment can really alienate people. Nobody is saying their struggle is harder, but when you’re in the throes of a depressive episode it feels terrible and lonely. A comment like this is insulting and trivializing.

3. You’re just being lazy. No depressed person I know is lazy, and even if they were, laziness doesn’t cause depression. But depression can cause extreme fatigue and deplete energy levels.

4. It’s all in your head. This is another comment that I think trivializes depression. Depression isn’t made up. It’s a very real medical condition where there are actual changes in the brain and it impacts physical health as well. Read more on how it affects the brain and body here.

5. You wouldn’t be depressed if you exercise. This is another tricky one because exercise is crucial to a person’s health, but again, I’ve been in situations where I was lucky to even shower, let alone do anything more strenuous. Only recently have I realized that exercise will help maintain my mood, so I’m working very hard to incorporate it into my daily routine. BUT even if I do exercise I will still be depressed. I will still need medications and talk therapy.

6. What do you have to be depressed about? I struggle with this personally because I feel so fortunate to have what I have, and it does make me feel very guilty; however, this is the stigma talking. Depression doesn’t care who you are or what you have. It can affect anyone but it doesn’t mean someone is not grateful for what they have. This is very hard to hear from others.

7. Just think positively. I hate hearing this so much. Thinking positively is not the reason I have depression. It’s not like I think negative thoughts all the time, but I am realistic about my disease and how to maintain it. Positive thinking never hurt anyone, but some may be incapable of putting things in perspective during a depressive episode. No matter how many happy thoughts you think, you can’t think this disease away.

8. Snap out of it! This is simple — nobody can just snap out of depression. This is mean, in my opinion, and people shouldn’t have to hear this.

9. But you seem fine. At times, I can be very high functioning. I also can laugh and joke around. In my case, I’m not depressed every single minute of every single day, so it may come off like I’m fine, but I’ll be saddled with depression for the rest of my life. And that’s OK.

10. Happiness is a choice. Another bullshit comment. This is offensive. The idea that people are choosing to be so devastatingly sad or suicidal is so ignorant. Please don’t say this to others.

I don’t want anyone to think that I’m discouraging you from reaching out to someone who suffers with depression. You should. Here are some ideas on what to say that (likely) won’t hurt them.

1. How are you feeling? Someone with depression may not want to talk about it, but this is a good way to get them to open up.

2. How’s your day going? Another good way to check in without being intrusive.

3. I’m coming over. In my experience, I will tell my friends I’m fine even when I’m struggling because I don’t want to be a burden. Some of my friends have learned to just show up.

4. I’m here if you need me. It always feels good to hear this. I know my friends and family are always there for me, and they give me space when I need it, but this is still comforting and supportive.

5. What can we do? This is very supportive and makes me feel like I’m not in the dark hole of depression alone.

I hope this helps, and I hope you will join me in trying to end the deadly stigma surrounding depression. Stay in the light, friends.

If you or a loved one are suicidal, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Learn what to do if your loved one is in immediate danger of hurting themselves.

10 thoughts on “10 Things Not to Say to Someone with Depression

  1. AP2 – Hong Kong – A pilot by trade, father and husband by day, and aspiring writer by night. I love to eat well, travel far and think too much. My blog - clear-air-turbulence.com - is centred around the idea of building a robust moral compass to navigate life. My writing requires a pinch of salt.
    AP2 says:

    “Just be optimistic” – I always thought that demonstrated a complete lack of understanding about depression and anxiety. Great post – thanks for being part of the good fight

    1. Heather Loeb – I’m 36 years old and suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder. I live with my husband and two small children in Texas. I hope my blog helps to end the stigma of depression and other mental disorders.
      Heather Loeb says:

      Absolutely! Completely insensitive. Thanks for reading!

  2. mentalhealth360.uk – United Kingdom – Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.
    mentalhealth360.uk says:

    I love this post Heather and I’ve posted something similar. It’s important that people understand depression and how to support someone with a mental illness. I agree that saying “What can I do to help?” or let the person know that “I’m here, you’re safe and I’ll listen.”

    It’s also important to ask someone who’s depressed “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” and know how to support someone who’s suicidal. Again, I’ve written something similar, if you’re interested 🙂

    You look after your and stay safe. Caz

    1. Heather Loeb – I’m 36 years old and suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder. I live with my husband and two small children in Texas. I hope my blog helps to end the stigma of depression and other mental disorders.
      Heather Loeb says:

      Yes! That’s so important – asking if they are suicidal. I should add that in. I’ll take a look at yours. Thanks for reading! – Heather

      1. mentalhealth360.uk – United Kingdom – Mum to two amazing sons. Following recovery from a lengthy psychotic episode, depression, anxiety and anorexia, I decided to train as a Mental Health Nurse and worked successfully in various settings before becoming a Ward Manager. I am a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and a Mental Health Awareness Trainer, Mental Health First Aid Youth and Mental Health Armed Forces Instructor. Just started my mental health from the other side blog.
        mentalhealth360.uk says:

        I love reading your blog Heather 🙂

      2. Heather Loeb – I’m 36 years old and suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder. I live with my husband and two small children in Texas. I hope my blog helps to end the stigma of depression and other mental disorders.
        Heather Loeb says:

        Thank you. I appreciate that so much

  3. I like this!! The one that gets me the most is “What do you have to be depressed about?” or, more directly, “You don’t have anything to be depressed about.” 🙁 I like your suggestions of what to say instead! Though I wouldn’t like it if someone just showed up to my house/room without warning or permission; that would feel intrusive and violating to me. But if someone has a relationship where just showing up is more common, it makes more sense. I haven’t heard “what can *we* do?” before! I like that one! 🙂 I might use it with friends (and maybe they’ll use it back!).

  4. K E Garland – Dr. Garland to some, Mrs. Garland to others, KG to a select few, and Kathy to everyone else. But in reality, I'm just me. Not titles. No pretense. Just me.
    K E Garland says:

    This is accurate. One of my daughters lives with depression, and I’ve had to learn what to say/not say the hard way. I do think exercise is helpful, but like you say, you have to begin a routine when you’re feeling energized.

    1. Heather Loeb – I’m 36 years old and suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder and Binge Eating Disorder. I live with my husband and two small children in Texas. I hope my blog helps to end the stigma of depression and other mental disorders.
      Heather Loeb says:

      That was really hard for me – starting an exercise routine because I almost always have little to no energy. Thanks for reading.

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