1. I know how you feel.
You may be trying to empathize, but “when someone is in such exquisite pain and can’t make sense of it, such a comment does not validate her feelings,” says Dr. Kissen. “Even if you’ve been through a bout of clinical depression yourself, everyone experiences depression differently.” Instead, say something like, “I can’t feel what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you.” This shows your willingness to share her pain and not run from it.
2. Everybody has bad days.
“It’s not just about having a bad day,” says Chris Kilmartin, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. “It’s about having more bad days than not for a few weeks or more. It starts to impair a person’s job, schooling or personal relationships.” Focus on the fact that you’re ready to listen by saying something such as, “Help me understand how you feel.” Then hear her out without dismissing the intensity of her emotions.
3. What do you have to be depressed about?
You may think you’re helping by pointing out what someone has to be grateful for, such as healthy kids or a beautiful home. “But your friend already may be thinking, ‘I should be more appreciative, and I feel guilty that I can’t pull myself out of this,'” says Dr. Kissen. Instead of telling her why she should be happy, do something together (even if she claims she won’t like it). Go for a walk or try a new restaurant. “Keep her connected with activities she enjoyed before depression set in,” explains Dr. Kissen. Activities don’t cure depression, but they may prevent a person from shutting down socially, which can make things worse.
4. Other people have it harder than you.
Your loved one may already think this, and it may make her think she has no right to feel awful. “These kinds of comments discount her situation and seem to say, ‘No, you don’t feel that way,'” says Helen Friedman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in private practice in St. Louis. Plus, it’s not about other people: It’s about what your friend is going through. A better approach: Ask, “How can I help you?” or say, “If you want to talk, let me know.”
5. Why don’t you find a hobby/take a yoga class/drink chamomile tea?
“The voice of depression tells a person to pull inward. You’re suggesting that they do the opposite thing by being engaged,” says Sally Winston, PsyD, co-director of the Anxiety and Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland in Towson, and co-author of What Every Therapist Needs to Know About Anxiety Disorders. But those offers may be useful when you encourage your friend to participate with you. Try rephrasing: “While you’re feeling terrible, why don’t we do this together?” Being with a loved one in pain reassures her she’s not a burden to you, which is a fear of many depressed people.
6. It’s all in your head.
You might not mean to sound harsh, but this remark comes off as dismissive. “Educate yourself about depression,” says Dr. Friedman. “It’s a real medical condition. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer that it’s in her head.” Instead of downplaying what your friend is feeling, say something like, “I’m glad you told me” or say nothing at all and just listen. “Sometimes there’s nothing more powerful than one person being absolutely present with another,” says Dr. Friedman.
7. Why can’t you snap out of it?
Perhaps you’re frustrated by what you perceive is your friend’s unwillingness to feel better or seek help. But no one chooses to be depressed. “Depression distorts a person’s perspective so that she feels nothing will ever change and that nothing can ever make things better,” says Dr. Winston. “The voice of depression is a constant barrage of hopelessness, guilt and worthlessness, so reassure your friend that these are feelings, not facts.” Stay involved to help your friend feel less alone.
8. Can’t you just get on some anti-depressant drugs?
There’s not one solution for everyone, and drugs aren’t necessarily the answer. It’s also not useful to compare situations, such as, “My cousin took an anti-depressant and it worked for him.” Your loved one is an individual, and treatments must be individualized. “It’s more reasonable to ask, ‘What have you tried so far?'” says Dr. Winston. It’s OK to suggest therapy too in a nonjudgmental way. Say something like, “I’m worried about you. I wonder if there’s a way to get some help,” or log on to these resources: Anxiety and Depression Association of America or National Alliance on Mental Illness.
9. Please don’t hurt yourself.
It’s better to ask, “Have you thought about hurting yourself?” says Dr. Kilmartin. If your friend or family member says yes (or if they describe a time, place or way they’d do it), take immediate action: Call your loved one’s primary care doctor or therapist, or dial 911. Get her to safety immediately so she can get the help she needs.