The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Even though you may have good intentions when you offer a depressed person advice, you may do more harm than good if you do not truly understand the nature of the illness. Depression is a medical condition that requires proper treatment with medication and therapy. Repeating platitudes like the following can leave him feeling like you are minimizing his suffering and really don't understand that he is already doing the best that he can.

The depressed person needs does not sage advice, but your love and emotional support as they recover.


Snap Out of It

Worst Things You Can Say to Someone Who's Depressed
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Depression is a medical illness similar to diabetes or hypothyroidism, where the body does not produce enough of a needed substance to function properly. And just like these conditions, we can not simply will our bodies to make more.

It takes the correct medical intervention, such as medication, to correct the underlying chemical imbalances of depression.


Cheer Up

In a similar vein are well-meaning exhortations to "cheer up" or "smile," as if all a depressed person needs to do to cure their depression is to decide to be happy. Just like he can't choose to "snap out it," he can't choose to "cheer up."


It Can't Be That Bad

Events that might not really bother one person may seem like insurmountable obstacles to someone with depression because they do not have the internal resources needed to cope with stressful experiences.

How bad things are in your life really has nothing to do with depression.


It's All in Your Head

Depression is caused by a deficiency in the brain of mood-regulating substances called neurotransmitters.

While technically the deficiency of mood-regulating substances is occurring "in your head," depression is a very real illness.


Who Cares?

Depression can make a person feel as if they have no worth as a human being.

The worst thing you can do is to confirm these feelings for him by saying that nobody cares.


Stop Feeling Sorry for Yourself

A person with depression is not choosing to feel sorry for himself. It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.

How he feels is not a choice at all; it is a chemical imbalance he has no control over.


It's Your Own Fault

While we do not entirely understand the causes of depression, we do know for certain that no one chooses to have this painful condition. Instead, it is believed by scientists to be at least in part an inherited condition passed along to us by our ancestors.

In addition to being hereditary, certain environmental factors may also play a role, perhaps by triggering any underlying inherited vulnerability to depression.


You Understand (When You Really Don't)

It's very easy to say that you understand what another person is going through, but if you've never truly experienced clinical depression, then it may feel to him like you are minimizing what he is experiencing. There is simply no comparison between a mild case of the blues and clinical depression. While your mild depression quickly passed, he sees no end in sight for his suffering.

Rather than saying that you understand, it would better to say that you don't understand, but you care about him and would like to try.


It Could Be Worse

It may well be true that a person's life could be worse, but depression isn't about how bad things are; it's about how bad they feel for the person at that moment.


You Never Think of Anybody but Yourself

While it may seem like a depressed person is very wrapped up in his own life, it doesn't mean he is selfish or unconcerned about others.

When a person feels the intense pain and sadness associated with depression, it becomes very difficult to focus on anything but that pain.


But You Don't Look Depressed

People with depression can become very good at putting on a fake smile and going through the motions of everyday life. This does not mean, however, that they are not falling apart inside.


You Just Need to Try Harder

Because depression is an invisible illness, it doesn't always show just hard a person is already trying. Hearing someone tell you that you just need to try harder when you are already giving it your best effort can be both frustrating and insulting.


You Should Get Out More

Unfortunately, the symptoms of depression, such as fatigue and lack of motivation, are probably what are causing him to stay home in the first place.

If he felt well enough to go out, then he wouldn't be depressed.


You Think You've Got It Bad

Avoid turning it into a competition for who is feeling worse. This makes the other person feel like you are minimizing their pain and not really listening to what they have to say.


This too Shall Pass

While this may be true, it is not helpful to a depressed person to hear this. It's just too vague a statement to offer any real hope. When will his depression pass? Will it be days? Weeks? Months? Years?

This statement simply provides no comfort to a person who is suffering and has no idea when they will begin to feel better, if ever.

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Article Sources

  • Moore, David P., and James W. Jefferson. Handbook of Medical Psychiatry. 2nd Ed. Philadelphia: Mosby, Inc., 2004.
  • Stern, Theodore A. et. al. eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.