What not to say to someone with depression

No, they can’t just ‘snap out of it’


According to the mental health charity Mind, depression affects 2.6 out of every 100 people – with numbers increasing every year.

With this in mind, it’s important to know how to approach someone you know who may be dealing with such feelings. Depression is not simply a “rough patch” or “feeling a little blue”, it’s a chemical imbalance in the brain that most often can’t be helped.

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In a study for Social Psychology Quarterly it was proved that the attitudes of friends and family members towards people with depression can have the biggest impact on their recovery, for better and worse.

That being said, the importance of knowing what not to say when approaching someone with depression should not be underestimated.

‘Snap out of it’

Expecting someone with depression to simply “snap out of it” is virtually impossible. The low mood experienced by people with depression fluctuates, meaning that contrary to popular belief, they’re not necessarily sad 100 per cent of the time.

Sadness is merely a symptom of depression, and expecting someone to just cheer up will inevitably only make things worse when they try and then find they can’t. It’s not something that can be turned on or off at will, and expecting that to be so displays ignorance on your part as well as a complete lack of empathy and understanding.

Instead, make it known that you are there if they need you, to listen or talk to.

‘People have it worse off than you’

In most cases of depression, self-esteem is often at an extreme low. Telling someone that people have it worse than them only perpetuates their lack of self-worth, and in the long-run can make it even more difficult for them to seek help.

A statement like this will only make them feel guilty or having reached out at all, which is the opposite of what they need. Ultimately there will always be people who are worse off in the world, but it’s important to deal with things on a case by case basis and not make comparisons that would only serve to belittle the problems at hand.

You can’t question or argue someone out of feeling depressed.

‘So why are you even bothering? Just give up’

Giving up is exactly what the voice inside their head is telling them to do, and by saying this out loud you are merely encouraging this defeatist attitude.

You should be encouraging them to not lose hope and to seek professional help, not feeding into their downward spiral.

‘Don’t worry, it’s just in your head’

You’re stating the obvious here. Of course symptoms of depression can extend to the physical too, such as excessive fatigue or insomnia, and lack of appetite, but this statement downplays the severity and validity of the person’s feelings.

It may all be “in their head”, but it also distorts their perceptions of what others think of them and how things really are.

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‘You’re being selfish’

This will only make the person want to internalise everything for fear of being perceived this way. Again, you need to be encouraging them to open up and this is not the way to do it.

They’re already being hard on themselves as it is and doubting whether they deserve help or not without you branding them as selfish for talking about how they feel.

‘Just be positive, happiness is a choice’

On the other hand, depression is not. As mentioned before, if it were as easy a flicking a switch on and off, they would. This person needs your support right now, not some clichéd idealistic bullshit about how ~positivity~ will beat their depression if they just “choose to be happy”.

This is enough to make anyone’s eyes roll, but when you have a chemical imbalance that hinders your ability to think positively, this statement just comes across as demeaning and frustrating. While trying to see the silver lining to things can help at times, it’s not some kind of miracle cure.

‘You just need to get out of the house’

It’s a well known fact that exercise, fresh air and a little bit of sunshine can occasionally help on particularly crap days. However, this could be worded differently. Why not offer to get out of the house with them and go somewhere, distract them for a while so they’re not stuck inside their own head over-analysing things all day?

For some it can be a struggle even to get out of bed on the very worst days, and if this is the case, why not offer them your company? Whether they accept or decline, at least they know that you care, and are willing to put in the time and effort to try and make them feel better.

‘What do you have to be sad about?’

There isn’t always a specific trigger or cause for depression, sometimes it just happens, and it sucks. Don’t make the person feel like their problems don’t matter.

The best thing for them right now is for you to make it clear that you understand that this is real, and that you’re there for them every step of the way.