All the worst things to say to someone who has depression

Telling them to “cheer up” is hardly helpful

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To commemorate Mental Health Awareness Week, The Tab Warwick has written a definitive list of what not to say to someone who suffers with depression. All of these comments may be just be said in passing, but they can have a real effect on someone who has a mental health problem; and more importantly saying such comments reinforces the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Smile” or “Just Cheer up!”

Whilst telling someone to “cheer up” may have good intentions, it can still hurt. Why? Because this view is simplistic – it implies that the person suffering has a choice. That they have a conscious decision to smile or not to. It implies that someone chooses to be depressed, and this is simply not the case. This comment is like telling somebody with a broken leg to “just walk”. It shows a lack of understanding, and it’s wrong.

‘What have you got to be sad about?’

Depression can choose anyone, anywhere and at any time. Just because a person has some good things going on in their life, does not mean that they are free from depression. A sufferer may be blinded by the overwhelming negative thoughts that occur in their head, they may be unable to see the good within their lives.

One may consider a celebrity such as Owen Wilson to “have it all” – yet he has battled with depression for many years, attempting suicide in August 2007.  It is unfair to judge someone when you have no idea what is going on in their lives, and most importantly in their head.

Yes they may have a nice house, a car and a loving family – but that doesn’t necessarily equate to them having a thriving mental health.

‘You can’t have depression, you always seem so happy!’

Whilst a person may come across as happy, that does not necessarily mean that they are. You never know a person’s internal struggles, and just because someone puts on a strong front, does not mean that they are not hurting inside.

High-functioning depression is a thing – where everyday tasks are not a problem; they can get up in the morning, attend lectures, write essays as normal – but are they energised by these tasks? Do they feel joy/excitement/happiness? Does the person feel any emotion at all? The answer is no, they are still overwhelmed by a mental numbness, even if they look okay on the outside.

‘I was depressed a few weeks ago’

Depression is often wrongly associated with being in a bad mood or having a bad day. By making a passing comment that Coronation Street being cancelled, or an argument with their other half has caused someone to become depressed, belittles depression to a mere passing mood.

Not only that, but it could make a person feel as if you’re downplaying their feelings and struggle. Depression is so much more than just a bad mood or a bad day. It can be paralysing for the sufferer, they feel lost, empty and alone for days, weeks and months on end. They aren’t likely to bounce back to normal the next day, depression engulfs them in every single way and often everyday tasks become almost impossible.

So please, think before saying you ‘had depression’ for a day – it is a long-term illness and not something that is likely to make a fleeting one day visit every time your favourite soap opera gets cancelled.

‘I’d rather commit suicide than listen to that song one more time’

Like the last comment, saying things such as, “I’ll commit suicide if Honey G wins the X Factor” or “If I hear Justin Bieber played one more time I will commit”, only serves to reinforce the stigma of mental health that so many people are trying to overcome. If someone makes a comment that they would rather commit suicide than do something trivial, like tidy a bedroom or finish a dissertation, they are trivialising suicide.

The misuse of these words causes mockery of mental illness. How do you think it feels for someone who is depressed or who has suicidal thoughts to read those comments? This language makes people with mental illness feel stigmatised, isolated and alone.

Whilst you may mean well by saying some of the above comments, keep in mind the impact such words could have on someone who is stuck in an uncontrollable cycle of negative thoughts and hopelessness.

There are other ways to show your support and compassion, simply by asking if they are okay can have a great impact. Taking the time to actually understand how that person is feeling, can be vitally important. You are showing the person that you care about them, it can make them feel loved and wanted.

Another way of helping is to reassure them that their illness will get better, there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Helping them find appropriate resources and seek the appropriate medical attention will make a huge difference to a persons overall mental health.

It is important to remember that depression is not a choice and it is very different from getting the blues. Mental health needs to be better understood in order to change the current perspectives on these illnesses.

If you are concerned for yourself, a friend or a relative then please seek professional advice. Below are a list of contact details which may be of use to you.

  • University of Warwick Health Centre: 024 7652 4888
  • University of Warwick Security Services: 024 7652 2083 or call into the Campus Security Gatehouse.
  • The Samaritans: 116 123
  • Saneline: 0845 767 8000
  • In the case of an emergency, phone 999