Things Not to Say to a Depressed Person

After weeks of mania, the inevitable crash that follows is in process. I’m not in a good way and am likely going into full-on Hermit Mode shortly.

One of the more frustrating things for me is that very few people in my life (friends or family) know anything about what it’s like to suffer with chronic depression. Sure, situational depression they get…everybody does. Your grandmother dies or you get divorced or you lose your job, you get depressed. But that’s temporary. CHRONIC depression, that shit’s not going anywhere.

So when it comes to knowing how to support me when I’m in The Pit, nobody knows what the fuck to say or do.

Good news. I’ve lived with severe depression most all of my life, so I can tell you quite a number of things that are not helpful in any way.

“Smile”

I’ve already been over this one. Just don’t. Ever. Not even cutesy crap like, “Turn that frown upside-down.” Know that when you say that to me, I’m imagining a swift punch to your throat.

“What do you have to be depressed about?”

Or anything along the lines of “Why are you depressed?”

It’s stupid questions like this that make me keep my depression to myself. (People say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but there really is.)

People will typically ask this question, followed by a barrage of things I have to be thankful for. “You have a roof over your head. You have family and friends who love you. You’re not starving. You have reliable transportation. You’re a talented singer. Blah blah blahbitty blah blah blah.”

Yes, all of that is true and guess what? I’m STILL FUCKING DEPRESSED. This is a big part of the problem, people believing you need rational reasons to be depressed. As if I’m depressed because of some external event. They don’t see that it’s a brain chemistry issue. On top of that, they can’t contemplate the self-sabotaging, self-loathing inner voice that runs 24/7 in my head and makes the depression even worse.

All that said, even though I don’t NEED reasons for my messed-up cranium to throw me into The Pit, I DO have plenty to be depressed about. At least, in my mind, and that’s what we’re talking about here.

I’m defective. I’m not normal. I’m by myself and I’m lonely and I doubt I’ll ever find someone to be with again. I’m always broke and can’t ever get ahead. I’m going nowhere in life. My best days are far behind me. If I were gone, it wouldn’t make one whisper of a difference in the world.

See? I could go on for days, trust me. Now, it doesn’t matter that it is negative self-talk. It doesn’t matter whether any of it is true or not true. It especially doesn’t matter that you agree with any of those things.

All that matters is this. Those things, along with hundreds and hundreds of others, are running through my brain from the moment I first open my eyes in the morning to the second I finally crash into slumber with the aid of sleeping pills each night. I guarantee you if you faced that in your head all the time, you’d be struggling to get through the day, too. Shit, you might even call yourself depressed.

“Things could always be worse”

Well, no shit, Sherlock. I could be in a deep, dark depression AND have no arms or legs and only be able to communicate by blinking, but so the fuck what? What does that have to do with me right here, right now?

Thinking about how life could be WORSE is already something I’m well-versed in. You don’t think I am already in a constant mental tornado of worst-case scenarios? Please.

Knowing that things could always be worse does NOT help to magically change my brain chemistry and make me all hearts and rainbows. And when you point to someone, say, in a wheelchair and say, “See, that could be you? Be thankful!” What I’m thinking is, “Shit, I’m depressed enough without any physical maladies. If that happens, just freaking kill me.”

Alternatives to this one are “try looking at the bright side of things” and “stay positive.”

“Don’t be so negative”

Right. Like I said above, you try living with the messages running around in my head. I’ll give you a week and then we’ll see if you want to say that to me again.

You think I want to think this way, that I enjoy being a Debbie Downer instead of a “glass is half-full” kind of person? I don’t. But it is ingrained in me for a variety of reasons. Save for something radical, like electroshock therapy or brainwashing or a lobotomy, those negative tapes aren’t going anywhere. You might as well tell a flamingo to stop being pink.

I’ve read a lot of self-help books over the decades. I’ve been through so many different types of therapies, both individual and group, it’d make your head spin. I’ve studied cognitive therapy, the power of “mind over mood,” all that stuff. And yes, there is lots of truth to it. Changing your mindset makes a major difference and can change your outlook.

The problem with me is that any changes in attitude/outlook are fleeting. I can be positive and chipper for a burst of time and then when my depression kicks in full-force again, and I can barely muster energy or motivation to leave bed, it all goes back down the tubes.

I do catch myself sometimes being negative. Easy to nip it in the bud then. But so much of the negative is subconscious that I don’t even notice it or how it permeates most aspects of my thinking.

“You need to stop thinking like that”

Again, you think I WANT to think like this? You think it’s all just THINKING that makes me depressed?

If I could flip some magic switch and make myself be an upbeat, positive, happy person, don’t you think I would have flipped that sucker a long time ago?

It doesn’t work like that. None of this works like that.

“You need to get out of the house and go do something”

No. I don’t. Not only do I not need to, I don’t want to. I am struggling so hard right now that venturing out of my safe haven is incredibly risky. I don’t want to interact with people, for the most part.

“You should exercise” is another way of saying this. Okay, fine. Maybe taking a walk would benefit me, at least physically. But you still aren’t hearing me. I may not even venture across the street to check the mail, let alone go for a walk.

In short, when I’m depressed, knowing I need to do something does not make me want to do it. (Bonus smack upside the head if you just said, “Do it, anyway.”)

“God doesn’t give you anything more than you can handle”

Yeeeeeah, let’s not go and get Him involved in this shit, OK?

If God is the kind of god that just keeps stacking as much shit on my plate as He can without me physically or mentally breaking, I’m no fan.

GOD: “Well, let’s see, I think I’ll throw a bunch of childhood trauma your way, mixed in with severe chronic depression, anxiety disorders out the wazoo, PTSD, bipolar disorder, addiction issues, and hey…how about this week we give you a major car repair, a broken tooth which you have no insurance for, a flat tire once your car comes out of the shop, 4 NSF fees from your bank from all the money you just spent, and weeks to go before you get any more income? I’ll keep piling it up more and more and more until you are just about to kill yourself…then I’ll back off just a smidge so I can say that I never gave you anything more than you could handle. Think about how STRONG you’re going to be after all this! How’s that sound?”

Gee, sign me up for some of that.

And by the way, who’s the one that gets to say what I can or cannot handle? Just because I’m not dead doesn’t mean I’m “handling it.”

So, yeah. “God doesn’t ever give you anything more than you can handle.” Even if that statement is true, do you think you’re comforting me by saying it?

It is not consoling to know God has incredible faith in me and my ability to handle all He is putting on my plate. Honestly, I don’t fucking care. All I know is I’m in agonizing depression and can’t see any way out.

“One day at a time”

Yes, thanks for that brilliant insight.

You’re right. One day at a time. My entire life has been “one day at a time.”

Shit, lots of times it’s one minute at a time.

While true, not helpful.

So just what SHOULD you say?

How about things like:

“How are you?”

And don’t ask this question if you just want the standard “I’m fine.” Be prepared for me to respond with “Meh” or “Not so good” or “I’m surviving.”

“What would be helpful for you right now?”

I may say something like, “I just need to vent without you responding or trying to fix anything.”

Or “I just want to sit here and watch TV and not say a word.”

Or “I just need lots of alone time.”

Or even “I don’t know” or “nothing.”

And I need YOU to be okay with any or all of those answers.

“I’m always here for you, so please text me or call me if you need anything”

That works for me, too. I may or may not ever take you up on that. In fact, when I’m really deep in it, I probably won’t. I’m terrible about reaching out in these times and I can count on one hand the number of people I might be semi-comfortable doing that with. But know this – if I DO reach out to you, for no matter how small a reason or request – it was incredibly difficult for me to do it.

Feel free to text me daily or every other day to see how I’m doing. Don’t pressure, though. If you ask if I need anything and I say “no,” don’t keep pushing me for some way – any way – that you can be of assistance.

For a short time, I was a telemarketer. Yeah, I know, ew. But the company I worked for was at least a telemarketing company with a (semi) conscience. The rule there was this: “If a customer tells you ‘no’ twice, politely thank them and get out of the call.”

That’s a pretty good rule of thumb, I’d say. If you ask me if I need anything and I say “no,” and then you say “Are you sure?” and I say “no” again…that’s where it should end.

“I hope you feel better”

Not a favorite of mine, but acceptable. I mean, yeah, I’m glad you want me to feel better. I’d hope you’d want me to feel better. And I will. Eventually. Just not today.

I don’t want you to feel poorly because I do. You don’t need to feel guilty about not being able to help me out of my depression, because nothing you do or say can make me STOP BEING DEPRESSED. Again, it isn’t about external circumstances.


If it helps even one person knowing what you really shouldn’t say to depressed people, then I’m glad I spend time writing this.

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