5 things not to say to someone struggling with depression

5 things not to say to someone struggling with depression

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a week for open and honest discussions about mental health. I have said this a million times but the only way we can make those of us struggling with mental health issues feel more comfortable and confident to seek help and support is by talking openly about our own struggles; normalizing an issue is the best way to help break the stigmas that surround it.

If you read my blog regularly then you will know that I am currently taking anti depressants to treat my post natal depression and perinatal anxiety, something I was at first very nervous to admit. When a loved one or friend is struggling with depression it can be difficult to know what to say and sometimes you may say something in kindness but actually your words can have the opposite effect. For mental health awareness week I have decided to share a list of things not to say to someone struggling with depression, not to make anyone feel bad who may have made these comments in the past but to help those who know someone with depression to not end up accidentally hurting them further. 

5 things not to say to someone struggling with depression.

1 ‘Cheer up, it might never happen’ – Firstly, what is this ‘it’ you speak of? Telling someone with depression to cheer up is like telling someone with a broken leg to just get up and go for  a walk – it’s not easy! Don’t you think if it was as simple as just cheering up then people struggling would do exactly that? Depression can be caused by circumstances but it is an imbalance of certain chemicals in your brain, you can’t just get around it by smiling (if only!).

2 ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ – This comment is so insulting. Depression doesn’t care how good your life is, it doesn’t care if you are rich, famous, physically healthy or have a perfect family. Sometimes depression just strikes for no apparent reason, no one is immune to it. As I said before, circumstances can of course cause depression (bereavement, loss of job, loneliness etc) but sometimes it just happens. Telling someone who is depressed that they have nothing to be depressed about can make them feel guilty, like they are being over dramatic or like their feelings aren’t valid because they have an otherwise good life.

3 Are you sure you’re not just having a bad day?We all have bad days, life is complicated and I am sure no one is happy every single day of their existence. However, a bad day when you are depressed is a lot different to a bad day where you have accidentally locked yourself out the house and your bank card was declined in Tesco. When you are depressed, a bad day (or more than likely days/weeks/months) can be spent crying for hours, battling terrifying thoughts and even contemplating suicide. A bad day can even be full of no feelings at all, just a terrifying numbness and emptiness; a day spent feeling nothing at all can be as awful as a day spent crying in your bed. If someone has depression they probably are having a bad day but it is never ‘just a bad day’.

4 ‘But you always seem so happy’ – It is called putting on a front, think about how many famous comedians struggle with mental health issues and those that also end up committing suicide. A smile is a perfect mask for hiding how someone is really feeling inside. You can exhaust yourself by acting happy and cheerful around people all day and then when you are alone the facade slips and your true feelings burst back through. Just because someone is chatty, confident and smiley when they are around you doesn’t mean they are not battling some seriously dark and scary thoughts when they are alone. It takes a lot to admit to friends and family that you are struggling so if your loved one tells you they are depressed, don’t point out how they always seems happy, you’re just highlighting to them that they have basically been lying this whole time about how they really feel.

5 ‘You don’t look depressed’ – Would you like to clarify what a depressed person actually looks like? A skinny figure, dressed in black, hood up and mascara smudged around their eyes? I actually had a doctor say something similar to this to me once. One week I went in to see my GP, crying, hair a mess and wearing my slobs and she said she must see me again the following week. When my next appointment arrived, I had brushed my hair and was wearing pretty clothes and she told me I didn’t look like I was depressed this week. Admittedly, I was feeling a bit better but I still wasn’t right and I was really hurt when she said I didn’t look like I was struggling anymore when really I was thinking just as dark thoughts as I had been the week before. Depressed people can wear pretty clothes, be perfectly made up, have the best hair do in town; just because you are suffering in your mind doesn’t always mean you don’t want to make an effort with your appearance too. I am willing to bet that if you lined up 10 mums, 5 of whom have post natal depression, it wouldn’t be as easy to pick them out as you might think. Please don’t tell someone they don’t looked depressed, looks aren’t everything and this comment can be really hurtful.

I hope this post has been useful, it has not been written to be preachy but just to inform and help those who know someone with depression to know what comments to avoid. I know most of the time these sort of things are said because people are just trying to be kind or they can’t think of anything else to say but words can cut deep and should be chosen wisely when spoken to someone struggling with their mental health.

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If you feel like you may be suffering with post natal depression here is a list of resources and charities that can help and support you.

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If you enjoyed reading this post you may also like to read the other pieces in the mental health section of my blog. You can find there posts about post natal depression, taking anti depressants, living with anxiety and tips and advice on how to improve your mental well being.

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27 Comments

  1. May 15, 2018 / 11:01 am

    Love, love this post. I’ve had 2-5 all said to me (I have severe depression and anxiety) and those type of comments make everything worse! I was once told that because I smiled I was okay – huh? I admit I’ve become very good at projecting that “I’m okay” when I’m not just to avoid some of those comments and that isn’t great either for metal health.

  2. May 15, 2018 / 12:42 pm

    I can relate to this at the moment! I have just started taking anti-depressants for post natal depression but haven’t admitted it to many people, it took me long enough to admit it to myself! x
    Siobhan | The Baby Boat Diaries recently posted…Living Arrows – 20/53 (2018)My Profile

  3. May 15, 2018 / 9:46 pm

    Those comments sound harmless in the grand scheme of things but when you think about it, they are very patronising.

  4. May 15, 2018 / 10:45 pm

    Love this post. I’ll never forget how long it took me to finally get the courage to speak to my Dr only to be told that I didn’t look depressed and clearly wasn’t depressed if I could make the effort to put make up on. Was so upsetting!

  5. May 15, 2018 / 10:45 pm

    It really is amazing the things people come out with. It’s like a weird coping mechanism. After all they wouldn’t query a physical illness – people can be so thoughtless!

  6. May 15, 2018 / 11:28 pm

    I was reading this, shouting ‘yes, yes, yes’ to every single point. I really struggled with maternal mental health after the birth of my first baby, and got to hear #2 all the time!
    Jenni recently posted…Fundraising for Mental Health Awareness WeekMy Profile

  7. Charley jay
    May 16, 2018 / 8:09 pm

    This is so honest and true I suffer from depression and anxiety and have had nearly all these things said to me this is such a relevant post x

  8. May 16, 2018 / 8:49 pm

    This is such a informative post, it is so important to talk about these things. I know what you mean by putting on a front, I suffer from a lot of pain in my back and people don’t realise how much I am hurting as I cover it up. I will remember these things
    Stephanie recently posted…How to Build a Home Gym from ScratchMy Profile

  9. Couldn’t agree with these more, being told to suck it up weekly and to just get on with life is so hard to deal with and i just wish more people took it seriously.
    Jordanne | Thelifeofaglasgowgirl.co.uk recently posted…May To DoMy Profile

  10. May 18, 2018 / 11:38 am

    Well done for raising awareness for this awful condition. Often people don’t think before they say things and believe they are trying to help when they really are not. x
    #blogcrush

  11. May 18, 2018 / 12:38 pm

    So true, most of the things people say when they find out you are suffering depression are not helpful. Listening is way more helpful. #BlogCrush

  12. May 19, 2018 / 12:30 am

    A lot of wisdom elegantly and succinctly expressed. #BlogCrush

  13. May 19, 2018 / 11:19 am

    LOVE THIS!!!
    Loads of wise words, that need to repeated!

  14. May 20, 2018 / 8:12 pm

    This is so needed. I like to think that most people (although definitely not all) really are trying to help when they say things like this they just don’t see how insensitive and awful it is. I know I’ve been guilty of saying the wrong things at times. But I hope that the more awareness mental health gets the more people realise what their words are really saying. #thesatsesh
    The Rhyming Mum recently posted…What you didn’t seeMy Profile

  15. May 21, 2018 / 9:49 am

    Simply brilliant! Yes yes yes to all of these. When I had PND my mum said to me; you better be careful or they’ll take the kids off you… Worst thing anyone could ever have said! #thesatsesh
    Catie: An Imperfect Mum recently posted…Week in Photos #31My Profile

  16. May 22, 2018 / 4:42 pm

    Such good advice! Nos 1 and 2 I have found particularly difficult to take in the past. We definitely need to understand depression more generally and how to talk about mental health issues. #thesatsesh. Xx

  17. May 22, 2018 / 8:25 pm

    I had a bad mental health day today and have made an appointment with my GP tomorrow. In the car I was getting stressed out about people seeing my face and saying “cheer up, it might never happen”. They were in other cars and of course wouldn’t be able to even if they thought it, but it’s a saying that has always made me feel uncomfortable. Even when I’ve been fine I’ve had people say it to me (must have resting bitch face!) and it’s just rude – like saying “you look miserable” – cheers, that’s made me feel loads better(!) #BlogCrush

  18. Jess
    May 22, 2018 / 9:17 pm

    Love this, so well written…and so true! Hope you’re keeping well lovely xxx #blogcrush

  19. May 23, 2018 / 9:02 pm

    #thesatsesh okay, as i read these i cringed because I often hear these when i speak to the parents of children who are suffering with mental health. I always think mental health would be easier to understand for people if it came with spots like chicken pox. It does make me sad that you’ve probably experienced these and that means the stigma still has power.
    fridgesays recently posted…Good shoes take you to good places.My Profile

  20. May 24, 2018 / 9:23 pm

    Great post. I think a lot of people innocently say things like this, not quite realising how hurtful such comments can be. My mental health hasn’t been good over the last year, and I’ve heard some of these comments way more than I’d have liked to. I think depression is hard for people to understand when they haven’t experienced it. X #thesatsesh

  21. May 25, 2018 / 7:37 pm

    As a past sufferer of depression, this post is spot on! #blogcrush

  22. May 26, 2018 / 10:58 pm

    Thank you so much for publishing this post. I’ve struggled with depression in the past and also have family members who are currently struggling. People often mean well, but aren’t quite sure what to say. This is a great post to help raise awareness. #Blogcrush

  23. May 27, 2018 / 2:21 pm

    Number 4….me.

    I get that a lot. It’s exhausting keeping up the act. I’m so very lucky at the moment, I’m not having to act, it’s real but I know that hole is there and hope I don’t fall down it again so soon.

    Well done for writing this, it’s very useful as a resource I can pass on as and when needed xxx

  24. May 28, 2018 / 2:17 am

    Yes, yes, yes! All of this! I struggled with depression several times in the past and I will agree that it’s not easy for others to know what to say, especially if they haven’t gone through it themselves. A lot of times well-meaning comments turn out sound flippant to those struggling with depression. #blogcrush

  25. May 29, 2018 / 9:22 am

    Such a great post! You have such a great gift for writing about this difficult issue in a clear, simple, helpful way. As someone who has struggled with severe depression in the past, I agree that all these statements are unhelpful. I was once told to “just open the curtains” and “go out for a walk” – as if it was as easy as that!

    Congratulations on being this week’s featured blogger on #blogcrush
    Lucy At Home recently posted…BlogCrush Week 67 – 25th May 2018My Profile

  26. May 31, 2018 / 10:04 pm

    Oh sheesh! I’ve mentioned before that I struggle with PPD too. If someone said these things to me, I’m pretty sure I’d feel absolutely terrible. And not heard or understood at all. You can’t will depression away. And pretending it’s not there doesn’t help either. Thanks for increasing awareness and education!

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