Six Things Not to Say to Someone with Depression

With one in 10 Americans suffering from clinical depression, it’s possible you know someone with this illness. Adam Kaplin, associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, outlines six things to avoid saying to someone with depression.


1. "I know how you feel." — If you do have experience with depression, it may help to share that a person is not alone, but try to avoid making the conversation completely about you. By saying “That must be difficult,” you are validating that he or she is having a hard time and that the suffering is real.

2. "Suck it up."  — While you may mean well, this can come off as trivializing someone’s condition. Depression is a serious issue in the United States, with approximately 20 million American adults suffering from mood disorders in a given year.

3. "Cheer up." — This, unfortunately, may have the reverse effect and could make them feel worse.

4. "You have to be strong for your kids." — This can be misinterpreted as accusing someone of being a terrible parent, even if you are just trying to offer advice. It might be better to plan an outing for families and keep it as an open invitation, where the person can join if he or she would like.

5. "It's all in your head." — This can be seen as a way of minimizing what the person may be going through. Family and friends need to realize that while they may feel shut out by someone with depression, it is nothing personal.

6. "Just think—there are others who have it worse than you do." — This can be another way of appearing dismissive of a person’s feelings, even if you are trying to recognize them. Sometimes it is more important to be there for a person and let the person know that he or she is not alone.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Jennifer February 20, 2014 at 8:46 am

Conversation is tough with people who have depression. Trying to reason them out of it exhausts both you and the depressed person, since depression isn't simply the result of erroneous thinking ("no one likes me," "I'm a failure," etc.) but also of physiological changes that inhibit a person's ability to experience good feelings. Friends who can quietly abide--instead of attempting to fix--are a treasure for those who have depression. Watching movies together provides company without asking the depressed person to engage, which might be painful. Offering to go on a short walk can do wonders. And, as in the case of any other illness, offering nutritious, appealing food is always a kindness.


Betsy M February 19, 2014 at 9:42 am

what do you say to someone you know is depressed, but refuses to seek treatment/take medication?


Elisabeth Scott February 19, 2014 at 7:43 am

Very interesting. So, What SHOULD we say?


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