We have all suffered from mild depression sometime or the other in our lives. All days are not equal and life can knock us down sometimes. But some of us who are reading this article have either suffered chronic or severe depression themselves or have been around people suffering from this dark disorder. WHO says, as per a report on April 2016, “Globally, an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression.” Handling depression is not easy but handling a depressed person can be tougher. It is really challenging to find the right behavior and words to offer to a depressed person that might act as a soothing ointment to his/her wounds. When we are depressed due to some everyday events like a bad day at work, fight a friend or argument with the spouse, we know this feeling of hitting the rock bottom is temporary and will go by the next rising sun. But what do we do when we see a person suffering from depression for a longer duration? The answer can never be stated down in exact words because emotions cannot be scripted.
Many a times I have been exposed to such situations where I am depressed due to certain events in my life and mind you it is not short lived, I have gone through these bouts for weeks if not months. And I want to take this platform and apologize to my family & friends who have put up with me in my difficult times and seen me grow out of it, but I would also add I have faced insensitivity or a nonchalant attitude from their end during these phases. I can blame it on my needy behavior of higher expectations or I can simply say, they did not say or do the right things at times. Whatever the case may be, I have put together some points that hurt me then and I am sure would hurt anyone who is going through a depressed phase of life.
Things not to say to a depressed person
- “It’s not like what you think it is”
Depression can bring with itself, lower self esteem, anxiety, sleepless nights, weight gain etc. And this process is cyclical. So when a person looks depressed to you, they have real problems. Sometimes we might feel that he/she is blowing his/her troubles out of proportion but these troubles are really there. It could be, they are not openly talking to you due to the fear of being judged. And being an outsider, you can’t really say, ‘it’s not like what you think it is.” It could be worse than what it looks like.
What you can do: Instead of saying this line, you can simply bring their focus to the things that are right in their life at the moment.
- “But you look so happy”
I get this every single time when I tell my loved ones, ‘I am going through a tough phase and I don’t think this is ever going to be light at the end of the tunnel.’ They tell me, but ‘I look normal and happy!’ Well, I have to say to everyone, please don’t expect a depressed person to be sulking in the corner and wasting their lives in vain. Some depressed people might look happy because they are too hesitant to put their troubles on the table or they just don’t want to bother you with their issues. And once in a while when they are talking to you, don’t cut them with this line. Some people are just better at masking their troubles, but there is pain behind that smile.
What you can do: Just be there, like they are there for you and be a good listener. Emphasize! We all need it sometimes.
- “Try to be happy”
The above point brings me to my next. I myself have given this advice to many of my loved ones that ‘why don’t you try to be happy’ or ‘cheer up’. But really, it is not a choice. This statement makes a depressed person feels we are demeaning their situation and telling them to just chose a better state of mind. If there was a choice, will anyone like to be depressed? A person with no eyes can’t be asked to just see and change things. Instead of asking them to suck it up and be happy, offering a validation to their problems can be a way to deal with things.
What you can do: You can use lines like, ‘that must be very hard’, ‘this sounds difficult enough’ etc. Validate their troubles and make them feel you understand.
- “You have to do this for your family’’
A depressed person is definitely not on the positive end of his/her thoughts and can easily misinterpret a situation or a statement. When we tell a morose soul that you have to come out of it for your family, even though you are trying to give them hope but really this is not doing much good. Chances are, they may assume that you are saying, “You are a bad person, stop being so self centric and think about others who love you.” Of course, that is not what we are saying but we might come across this way.
What can do: Tell them you care or love them and plan a family outing or ask them to plan a family outing, which might bring their focus on their loved ones. Apart from this, a change of place will help them for sure.
- “I know exactly how you feel”
We all say this statement or give an example of someone who was going through a similar situation and emerged out triumphant, but really no one can understand someone else’s situation. There are many permutations and combinations as well factors affecting their lives. It cannot be a similar situation. A depressed person does not need to know how you battled your journey through, they want it to be about themselves. Let them be and don’t make it about yourself. A bit of pep up talk on how you or your friend emerged out of the trouble is okay, but we all get carried away with our talks.
What you can do: Yet again, validate their point and listen like you are really interested and want to know about them.
- “You are overthinking yourself into it”
Yes, this is true and may be a depressed person is overthinking and blowing his troubles out of proportion, but this does not change the fact that he/she is depressed. This statement “You are overthinking yourself into it” is again like saying ‘Try to be happy’ or ‘Suck it up’. It is not like the thoughts are self chosen ones. These self-negating or dark thoughts arrive without invitation and stay for longer time with a depressed person. Do not minimize their situation with this.
What you can do: Thoughts can only be replaced by actions, so take them somewhere out or call over other friends to change the mood.
- “Let’s use recreational drugs or alcohol to ward it off”
Alcohol or drugs like marijuana or hash does not have a solution to these problems. They might relax the mind and put the troubles at bay for a while, but in the long run you might just be creating more troubles for that friend than offering a helping hand. They might get addicted to alcohol or drugs and never be able to leave it. Do you want a family member or friend to be addicted to such life ruining things?
What you can do: Help them with music, reading, movies or travel, these all are a form of addiction too and can help them focus on better things in life.
- “Everybody has their share of joys and sorrows”
Though this is one of the truest statements and we all have our share of joys and sorrows and also there are others who suffering from than us, but this statement is again not helping a depressed person. They do not want to hear how they should be grateful for not being at a lower level. Adding perspective to a depressed person’s life with this statement is like saying, ‘I don’t know what to say, let me just say this.’
What you can do: If you don’t know what to say, then don’t say anything. Just be there, your presence might be comforting enough. It is not possible to put everything in words.
We hope this helps you to deal with people in need around you and get them to a brighter zone.