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.