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Jun 16 2011

Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person

[Snark Warning, TMI Warning]

You would think that most people have this depression thing figured out by now. Almost everyone knows at least one person who has it. And by depression, I’m referring to major depressive disordernot feeling sad, not having the blues, not going through a breakup or divorce, not losing your job, not having PMS. Major depressive disorder.

Anyway, apparently some people still aren’t clear on how to deal with a friend or family member who’s depressed, so I’ve written this list of things not to say to them. Seriously, please don’t say these things.

  • Why are you so miserable all the time? Would you like a detailed description of my brain chemistry? No? Then don’t ask this question. Also, quit it with that annoying mildly-offended tone. My emotions aren’t a personal attack on your values.
  • You know, I was depressed once, but I just pulled myself out of it. You know what, good for you. I’m truly happy that you were able to do that. But not everyone can, ok?
  • Stop being so sensitive. Lower your blood pressure! Now! Can’t do it? Wow, you’re so lazy, relying on doctors and medications to help you do something the rest of us can do ourselves.
  • But what could you possibly have to be depressed about? Depression isn’t “about” anything. It just is.
  • You’re just trying to make my life difficult. Actually, I’m just trying to get by and stop wanting to kill myself. Your life is quite honestly the last thing on my mind right now.
  • You just need to get a boyfriend/get out more/exercise/eat better/sleep more/take herbal pills/get laid/do art. Actually, yeah, tried all those. Let’s leave the medical advice to my doctor, shall we?
  • Why can’t you just go out and have fun with us? Because I get exhausted starting at 7 PM, because you and your friends bore me, because I don’t want to be asked why I’m not smiling all night, and because being depressed isn’t like going through a breakup–it can’t be solved by drinking or dancing or having sex with random people.
  • But you’re so young! Ahhh, this one always gets me. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers and college-age adults, right behind car accidents and homicide. So clearly I’m not exactly the first young person in the history of human society to be depressed.
  • You just need to learn how to control your emotions. Yes, that’s what therapy’s for. Thanks for the protip, though.
  • Why do you have to ruin everyone’s mood all the time? Because you’re letting your mood be ruined by the fact that someone in your vicinity has an illness. Also, if you’re so concerned about your mood, imagine what it’s like to live inside my mind 24/7.
  • Smile! Or else what? Will I fail to do my duty by Brightening Someone’s Day? Are you offended by my neutral facial expression?

Now, a disclaimer: this post was meant more for the purpose of humor (a sense of which I do, believe it or not, have) than anything else. So don’t get on my case for hating on healthy people. However, if someone you care about has depression, you might want to take my suggestions into account. Saying stuff like this only makes people with depression want to isolate themselves from you every more than they already do. Might earn you a dirty look, too.

So, now that you know what not to say to a depressed person, you might be wondering what you should say to a depressed person. Look out for a post regarding that.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    Joan Haskins

    yes.

  2. 2
    Chenrezi

    Speaking as a person who has problems with depression AND a student of psychology… yes. Just… yes.

    This is the root of my problem with the emo movement (if it can be called such). A disorder that has ruined countless lives has been turned into a tool for getting attention, and now that’s gotten into the cultural consciousness so much that people who legitimately have problems with depression have difficulty being taken seriously.

    I could expand, and also dive into popular perceptions on psychiatric medication, but… I’ll save the rant for another time and place.

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      I’d definitely have to agree there. I’m getting quite tired of being lumped in with the teenagers cutting their wrists because they think it looks edgy.

      In fact, when I was younger, my condition was usually interpreted as teen angst by parents and friends, and everyone thought it would magically go away when I started college. Well, guess what! It didn’t.

  3. 3
    Barb

    Well one of the hard things is that we use the term so colloquially that we aren’t sure as to what degree of seriousness to take the “I’m depressed” phrase. And a lot of people aren’t very public about it, so when it doesn’t affect an immediate family member, or a close friend, there isn’t a lot known about who has it and who doesn’t. In which case, we wind up with the silly stereotype of the ungrateful suburban emo kid being depressed.

    1. 3.1
      Pen

      I agree about the stereotyping. I once let on about my SAD, which can–and has–trigger major depressive episodes, and the person I was talking to said I just “didn’t seem the type.” SAD is so common where I live that most people think nothing of it, and it doesn’t always turn into major depression. I’ve had people tell me that I couldn’t possibly have depression–let alone triggered by something so common as seasonal affective disorder–because I don’t wear black, long sleeves, and live in the city. Because having depression in the city is different than having depression in the suburbs?

    2. 3.2
      Chenrezi

      True enough. That’s why I tend to amend the term as “clinically depressed.” As in “no this isn’t just them being moody, they actually went to a licensed professional who made the informed judgement that they were depressed.”

    3. 3.3
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Yeah. I tend to say that I have depression rather than simply that I’m depressed. Or like Chenrezi I say that I’m clinically depressed.

      That said, I’ve heard most of the things on this list even from people who are fully aware of what my diagnosis is.

      @Pen now THAT is surprising. I’ve heard all kinds of stupid reasoning about who can and who can’t have a mental disorder of some sort, but the notion that city dwellers apparently can’t have SAD is definitely a new one.

      1. 3.3.1
        Pen

        Oops. I didn’t word that correctly. I don’t live in the city. The person I was talking to was referring to a small-town stereotype in which everybody who lives in the city either does drugs, is in a gang, is depressed, or all three. Apparently to them, SAD doesn’t exist outside of a) the city and b) people everywhere who wear black. What should have been said in my original response was “because I don’t wear black or long sleeves, and don’t live in the city.”

      2. 3.3.2
        Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

        Ohhh, I see. Well, my point is still relevant! There are a great deal of categories of people who apparently can’t have depression, according to popular opinion.

    4. 3.4
      carney

      Wm Styron said calling it depression “makes it seem like a declination in the road,” not a chronic illness that has to be managed rather than cured.

      And why don’t people get colloquial about other mental disorders?
      Nobody says “God, I feel so obsessive-compulsive today,” or, “Dude, you sound so schizo-affective. Chill out, man.”

      1. 3.4.1
        Chenrezi

        Actually, I think that we colloquialize mental disorders far more than we realize. I’ve definitely heard people say “I’m so OCD about arranging my desk/leaving the lights on/eating dinner on time/etc.” before. And how many times have you heard somebody described as “psycho” when the person in question is not hallucinating or experiencing delusions or other schizophrenia-like symptoms?

      2. 3.4.2
        Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

        I think I’d agree with Chenrezi. Depression does get colloquialized much more than other disorders because it initially appears to bear the most similarity to healthy emotions like sadness, but I’ve definitely heard people apply terms like OCD, ADHD, autistic, dyslexic, and schizophrenic to situations where they definitely do not apply.

        Otherwise, though, I agree with what Styron said. “Depression” does mostly mean a temporary decline in something–for instance, the economy.

  4. 4
    Team Oyeniyi

    Very good post Miriam. People can be very insensitive.

  5. 5
    Stephanie

    Good post. Yes I’ve heard just about all of this from people, all the time. I nearly had the same reaction to those. Or I wanted to throw something, then push them away. I even push one person that did say those things to me, more away.

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