By Jenn Bovee, LCSW, CRADC, CCHt, The Mental Wellness Center, Inc.
Depression is a mental illness that affects approximately 10 percent of American adults from all walks of life. It is a leading cause of disability and can significantly interfere with a person’s behavior, physical health, and interaction with others. Depression afflicts more people than cancer and coronary heart disease, and is the number one contributor to suicide. However, less than half of those diagnosed actually seek help and countless others are undiagnosed.
With these facts in mind, it is very likely that you know someone who suffers from depression. And if the person is a close friend or a loved one, you may wonder what you can do to help. In trying to help, it is all too easy to say things that are not helpful. Following are some common things that you should avoid saying when communicating with a person who struggles with depression.
- “Get over it”, “Snap out of it”, “Just deal with it”. Depression is not something that people can just “shake off”. They are dealing with it every single day. It’s often a struggle to just make it through the day. While you are trying to be encouraging, words like these make the person feel like their condition is simply a temporary mood swing. Depression doesn’t just go away and if a person could snap out of it, they most certainly would.
- “It could be a lot worse.” While we think that this is putting the disease in perspective—by pointing out that it would be worse to have cancer or a loved one die—a statement like this indicates that you think depression isn’t really very serious.
- “Let’s go out and have a drink” or “You need to loosen up and have some fun”. Alcohol is not a way to deal with depression. In fact, it is all too easy for drinking to turn into an addiction. A key symptom of depression is a lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. Instead, let the person know that you miss spending time with them and invite them out for lunch.
- “What are you sad about?” Depression isn’t usually caused by a certain event or circumstance. It is far more complicated than just feeling sad. Often depression is manifested in irritability, anger, fatigue, or just not caring about anything. Depressed people don’t know why they feel the way they feel.
- “You’ll be fine” or “Things will be better tomorrow.” This is usually said to give people hope, but it actually makes them feel like a big failure because they probably won’t feel better the next day or the next week.
- You should try ________(fill in the blank) exercise, meditation, acupuncture, eliminating sugar, taking a fish oil supplement, etc,. etc., etc. We tend to want to “fix” problems, so it’s easy to offer advice. While it is true that exercise and healthy eating can help combat depression, these are not “cures”. When we are consistently bombarding someone who is already struggling, we no longer are an ally. They often have barely enough energy to get out of bed much less exercise or cook healthy meals. It is much more helpful to take a walk with them or bring over some healthy meals.
- “I know what you are going through.” You actually don’t know what the person is going through. Even if you have suffered from depression yourself, everyone experiences it differently. Saying this downplays their feelings and implies that their feelings are the same as yours.
Many people struggle with the powerlessness of watching someone they love deal with depression. Here’s my suggestions on how to be helpful to those people:
- Let your friend or loved one know that you love and value them no matter what.
- Spend time, in person, with them. This may mean you need to do the scheduling, calling, and arranging. So many people feel better when they spend time with a positive, supportive person.
- Use helpful phrases such as:
– Can I do anything to help?
– I’m sorry you are going through this
– I can’t imagine what you are going through, I’d love to learn more about it. Are you comfortable sharing with me?
– I’m here for you.
- Be supportive of their attempts at health. Anything they are doing to get better and regain control is worthy of acknowledgement.
- Have realistic expectations. It’s so important not to expect that because this person had one good day, they are magically never going to experience depression again.
The most important thing you can do is encourage the person to get professional help, if they haven’t yet done so. There are many different techniques that have proven to be effective in dealing with depression and helping a person to achieve lasting improvement.
For more information on depression or other mental health issues, you may contact The Mental Wellness Center at 309-807-5077 or e-mail: info@TheMentalWellnessCenter.com. Their office is located at 205 N. Williamsburg, Suite A in Bloomington. They are invested in empowering you to return to—or achieve, possibly for the first time ever—a state of complete mental wellness.