When we see someone suffering, of course we want to help.
This is especially the case when we have a loved one who is going through the pains of depression.
Unfortunately, however, those who try to help, though well intentioned, often say exactly the wrong thing. What seems like a simple solution to them is often very cutting to the sufferer.
There are several things that I have frequently heard that, in my opinion, you ought never to say. They don’t help, and they can make the situation worse.
There are five in particular that I suggest you avoid:
1. Just smile.
This one really irritates me. If only the solution were as simple as that!
And while it is true that smiling can help boost mood, it is not going to eliminate genuine depression, which runs too deep.
2. Try harder.
Depression cannot be overcome by sheer willpower. It involves working through issues, for example, and often requires medication.
And even medication may not be sufficient to lift the sufferer out of his or her low mood.
On top of that, depression brings with it very low energy. Therefore, to urge the sufferer to exert more effort is often to ask the impossible
Those with depression are frequently already trying as hard as they can–and all that effort is going toward existing and attempting to function. They don’t have the energy to go beyond mere survival and become a happy, healthy human being.
3. No one likes to be around someone who is mopey.
This is one of the most painful things you can tell a depressed person.
Depression often brings with it very low self-esteem. One feels unloved and unlovable.
And yet one is trying as hard as possible to be acceptable to other people.
To say this is only twisting the knife. You are telling those who are depressed something they tell themselves every minute of the day.
You are reminding them of the consequences of the situation which, as we have said before, they are virtually powerless to overcome.
4. Snap out of it.
I don’t know how many times this has been said to me. Snap out it? If only it were that easy.
This command shows a lack of understanding that is so extreme that it is pitiable. It, like “try harder,” seems to indicate that mere willpower is all that is necessary to overcome depression.
And as we said above, willpower is insufficient and frequently not even there.
5. Don’t you want to be happy?
As if the sufferer were choosing to be unhappy! And yet people frequently act as though having depression were a choice.
I think sometimes those who don’t have depression are trying to jolt those with depression into a better state of mind. Or what is worse, they are using guilt tactics to try to make the sufferer feel bad for what he or she is supposedly choosing to do.
I repeat: Depression is not a choice. People who suffer from it would give anything to be free from it. To ask them if they want to be happy is tantamount to a taunt. You are hanging in front of them something they want with all their hearts and acting as though it is simply theirs for the taking.
Bonus: 6. I understand.
This can be very irritating for a depressed person to hear, because depression with all its ramifications is extremely hard to understand fully unless you go through it.
When you hear someone assert understanding, it can sometimes sound dismissive, as though it sums up, categorizes, and puts away all your sufferings.
On top of that, it is not uncommon for people who are depressed to think that everyone else is happy and therefore has no possible grounds for understanding them.
That is why I think that it is better to express empathy than understanding.
To sum up
The key thing to remember is that there is not a simple solution to depression. All of the mistakenly helpful advice that I have mentioned above assumes that it is easy to cure the problem.
What the sufferer needs most is love and patience. Instead of advice, give all the support and encouragement you can. That will go further than any words in the world.