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.
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.
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.