When you’re living with depression, love and support from friends and family can make a big difference. But it’s often hard for them to know what to say or how to help.
Loved ones may end up making comments, often with good intentions, that can end up doing more harm than good.
We asked people with this mental health condition to share the common phrases they hear that really bug them and why. Here’s what they told us:
1. “You should try working out.”
“I’m not going to deny the chemical effects working out has on the brain, but what about when they pass? The whole thing about depression is you struggle to get out of bed, much less work out. Furthermore, when I’m at my lowest and you tell me I should work out, it just makes me feel worse about myself.” — Crystal N.
2. “It’s all in your head.”
“Granted, this is usually said by people who have never experienced clinical or severe depression, and they likely do not understand the difficult and detrimental side effects of mental illness. It bothers me because it represents a lack of compassion and understanding, in my opinion. It implies that depression is not a big deal and almost makes it seem like it’s imaginary.”— Karla Culbertson
3. “Why don’t you just let yourself be happy?”
“Unless there is some sort of magical happiness elixir that I’m not aware of, joy is not something depressed folks can just allow themselves to experience on demand. When darkness is all you’ve ever lived with, it’s impossible to even contemplate the notion of life in the light, let alone actually go ahead and do it. Therefore, suggesting to someone who’s chronically depressed that he or she should just ‘be happy’ makes as much sense as asking my dog to explain Bitcoin to me. It’s a complete fantasy.” — Craig Tomashoff
4. “You’re being selfish.”
“People with depression don’t act for selfish reasons. They can be hurting so bad that they think they are being completely selfless when they say things like, ‘You would be better off without me,’ because they feel like they’re relieving their loved ones from pain. It frustrates me that people place even more blame on the depressed which creates a spiral of more depression.” — Katie Leikam
5. “Medication isn’t the answer.”
“I’ve had numerous people tell me that I’m too young to be taking medication or that I shouldn’t take it at all. Why is there shame in getting a little help from medication? Sometimes, you just can’t do it on your own. It isn’t for everyone but there shouldn’t be shame in taking it if you do!” ― Crystal N.
6. “Just be more positive.”
“I feel like people who say this don’t accept the fact that depression is a real illness. A serious and deadly one. I feel like they think I’m not fighting it and do nothing. It is incredibly upsetting.
It’s very hard to understand that every single thing can suddenly become hard when you have depression. Getting out of bed feels like climbing Everest. Going out becomes impossible. Everything is at an Olympic level and I am far from being an athlete. Someone saying this becomes someone I won’t reach if I need help. For me, it’s like they close the conversation. What can I answer to this? I don’t have the energy to explain that it’s way more complicated and that I don’t even understand what’s wrong with me. So I just shut down.” ― Sow Ay
7. “Hey, it could be worse.”
“This phrase takes the value out of someone’s thoughts and feelings. It also takes away from the healing process, which can be very difficult, grueling and dark to begin with. I realize that the person saying these things might be trying to help, but the fact of the matter is, they only usually make things worse.” — Culbertson
8. “It’s just a bad day.”
“Bad days don’t linger for days, possibly weeks. If I’m struggling to get out of bed, dress myself, eat, please don’t downplay my struggles and tell me it’s because I had a rough day at work. It’s depression, plain and simple.” ― Crystal N.
9. “Why didn’t you speak up about how you were feeling?”
“I have no reason to doubt that, for the most part, people who ask this question are well-intentioned. Still, it’s as naïve a query as you can possibly have for someone living inside the sensory deprivation tank that is chronic depression.
That’s because in this world, nobody really likes hanging around people who talk freely about their demons. To open up like that isn’t seen as a sign of strength. It’s more likely regarded as an extreme annoyance. (Seriously, next time someone at work asks you how you’re doing as you pass in the hallway, really tell them. See how long that conversation lasts.)
Once the number of times you’re called Debbie Downer in any given week hits double digits, the last thing you want to do is be open about being depressed.” — Tomashoff
Responses have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.