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10 things not to say to a depressed person (and please don’t ever say to me either)

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I cringed at these things my friends said to me these few years. For those of you who don’t really get us, I’ve decided to let you know  10 things not to say to a depressed person from my own experience.And be forewarned, for if you ever dare to even start uttering the below to me, I will hang you by your legs upside down, skin you alive and then deep fry you before publicly disowning you and denying your pitiful existence.

I had never thought people would write to me for advice and suggestions. A few weeks back, a friend wrote to me and said she just found out that a family member of a friend has depression. But her friend did not know what to say or how to encourage the depression sufferer. She asked me if I had any recommendations. It got me thinking.

However, as I’m not a doctor, I can’t give medical advice. Moreover, what to say is very dependent on the personality and situation of the oppressed. But what I can offer is my take on what NOT to say to someone in depression. Hopefully this can help you empathize where we weirdos are coming from, and for you to be more sensitive to our plight.

And on that note, may I solemnly remind you again: please don’t ever ever EVER again say the below in bold type to me in whatever circumstances if you consider me a friend. Otherwise I’m throwing a tantrum in your face.

Do NOT say:- (Oh wow, I’m writing a list!!!)

1. “Remain Positive”

I think: Duh! I know – but how? To me, my reality is that the world has alreadycaved in. What is irrational to you makes utmost sense to me. I’m so angry / upset / sad / lonely / devastated / hopeless / in despair… Why can’t you understand me?

I feel: Recoil further into my shell to avoid future contact and meaningless advice because you never told me how to remain positive.

 

2. “Don’t think like that”

I think: Why not? What’s wrong with thinking like I do? It’s an honest opinion. I really think this. It’s negative all right, but that’s what I think, so what’s wrong? So how should I think instead? Like you? But I don’t agree with you, and then I become you if I think like you…? 

I feel: I did something wrong for thinking a certain way, and you reprimanded me for thinking so. Thus, I withdraw, and berate myself for thinking the way I do, and spiral further down into depression due to self-criticism. 


3. “Pull yourself together” / “Snap out of it” and the likes

I think: How? Snap out of what? I don’t want to be like this either, you think it’s fun?

I feel: Feel completely useless and hopeless that I’m incapable of holding myself together and getting better. Depression snowballs with this sense of incompetence.

 

4. “Why do you need to be depressed?”

I think: Umm… I don’t know, I wish I knew. Doctors said it’s because of some imbalance in serotonin in me. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I DON’T KNOW!!!!!!!

I feel: Accused of committing a heinous crime to be depressed. Confused because I don’t know what happened to make me depressed and how it all happened. Lost since I don’t know how to get out of depression. Feel inferior and worse about myself, so I hide from you as well because I don’t want to feel inadequate. 

 

 

5. “Look at how lucky you are already! Be thankful”

I think: I am thankful for what I have. But what does that have to do with depression? Doctors and every website I’ve read say depression is an illness and has biological factors. Depression needs to be treated as any other sickness. You are lucky too, be thankful – stop having a freaking cold and sneezing germs into the air I breathe!

I feel: Misunderstood as a spoilt, ungrateful little girl when I’m not. Frustrated for being misunderstood, cry, wail, sad. Retreat into my hiding place – again.

 

6.  Go do something and you will feel better.”

I think: Go do what? I can’t be bothered. I’m tired. I’m not interested. I have no energy. I just want to sleep. Doing something won’t make me feel better. Leave me alone.

I feel: Tired and lethargic, and no energy to think about what to do. Harassed because you keep telling me to do something.

(N.B. What did work, was instead of telling me to do something, my fiancé simply made me put my clothes on, slid me into my boots, and dragged me out of the house for a walk, talking about random things on the way, not once mentioning anything to do how I was doing or asking if I felt better.)

 

7.  “What’s wrong with you?”

I think: I WISH I KNEW. I wish I knew. Oh how I wish I knew. Can you tell me? Can somebody tell me? I don’t want to be like this. Why am I like this?

I feel: Absolutely hopeless because I don’t know why I became like this, and I was unable to find out the reasons behind my depression. Very belittled and angry at myself. Can’t deal with this. I might as well die.

 

8. “You should do this…” or “You should not do this (such as kill yourself)…”

I think: Why? This is my life, I’m allowed to end it if I want. Why should I eat? I’m not hungry.

I feel: Patronized by your condescending tone (even if you didn’t have one). Rejected for not doing what you think I am supposed to. Another bash to my already dwindling self-confidence – you just succeeded in making me feel more desperate and more depressed.

 

9.  “See how others suffer even worst, and have no food to eat, be grateful for what you have”

I think: But you told me not to compare myself with others when I told you I was envious of others who have achieved more than me. So how double faced is it that just because others are less fortunate I can compare with them? I know you are trying to tell me I should count my blessings – I do, trust me I do. But how does this solve my depression? I still feel that life is not worth living despite being grateful for what I have. I am too tired to carry on and try.

I feel: Baffled as to why sometimes you say don’t compare and other times you tell me to do so. I don’t understand how being thankful makes me feel better, because what I have now has no meaning and no value to me. I JUST WANT TO DIE. Maybe if I die, there’d be more food for those who don’t have any. Proceed to jumping out the window from 30th floor.

 

10.  “It’s all in your head…”

I think: IT’S NOT! But I know. How do I change my head? It’s not my fault. I didn’t want this. I can’t control it. I’m trying but I can’t!

I feel: Furious at myself for not being able to control my head and thinking. Inept at everything I’m trying to do and worse, for disappointing you. Alone that no one can understand me. Alienate myself. Doomed to fail; might as well die…

 

You might consider our reactions and emotions to what you say extremely unreasonable. I will not argue about it. Nevertheless, bear in mind that someone affected by depression does have a lot of “irrational” thoughts by standard of the norm. Yet, it is our reality and we completely believe it, irrational or not. So don’t try to debate or convince us otherwise. You will only push us further down our bleak track.

My contention is that, the wrong thing said, can unknowingly push a depressed friend over the edge. Not to be fatalistic, but 60% of suicides in the world is associated depression – go ask the World Health Organization if you don’t believe me.

Please, give us a break. If we all had a choice, I don’t think any of us would want to linger in a state of depression.

If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Just sit with us, let us cry, kick your shoes or whatever. That’s maybe all we need for now. Leave the lecturing to a medical expert such as a psychologist who can do it skillfully.

I compiled this from experience and based on my own reactions; I winced every time someone said the above to me in the last three years. Just for reference.

If you have anything else to add to the list of things to not say to a depressed person, feel free to in comments below. And if you liked this blurb please share with your friends and help my blog grow. Thanks :)

                               

863 Responses

  1. chelsea says:

    Today I told my friend I felt toxic and he said “it’s ok to be toxic!” And I thought he really had to be stupid. Its ok to treat everyone around you like garbage? It’s ok to push people out of your life and hate yourself when they tell you they don’t want to come back? It’s my own fault but it’s not my fault at the same time because I can’t control it, and I have to live with that. Why would I want to make people want to leave my life?

  2. Ryan says:

    I once told a depressed friend of mine that he was depressing the shit out of me…and then I left is house. Maybe that could number 11 on your list.

    • zhiv says:

      Ryan, are you saying you regret your actions, or do you want ‘You’re depressing the shit out of me’ to be one of the things not to say to a depressed person? It’s a very good point. Saying something like that to a depressed person can set up a situation where the person with depression might start to feel more guilty than they already do about having an illness that is largely beyond their control. The consequences can be devastating. Some people kill themselves because they feel they are a too-heavy burden on their friends and family. Saying ‘you’re depressing the shit out of me’ to a depressed person can tip them over the edge. Imagine saying to someone with cancer, ‘your cancer is boring the shit out of me’. The implication is ‘so either get over it or hurry up and die so I can be the centre of attention/talk about myself/be less inconvenienced by your pain’. So yes. Saying unkind and ill-informed things like ‘you’re depressing the shit out of me’ to someone suffering from depression should be number 11 on the list.

      • nochnoch says:

        HI Zhiv

        Thanks for the encouragement, and happy to have some support in this viewpoint. yes, I think so many of us are bogged down by social conventions that we almost feel guilty for feeling different, and then we have to mask it all in front of others. It’s too tiring. If I like it, I like it. If I don’t, I don’t. I don’t think I need to be told how to feel about my body and emotions, though of course if it goes way off course like if I sink into depression again, then I might need some help to reorient my thinking. However, that’s also part of the process – to identify the thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and find the self awareness that I seek :)

        Take care
        Nochie

  3. Wander says:

    Thank you for this list, I can finally come to terms with the fact that other people understand exactly how I feel and have almost the exact reaction as I towards comments made about depression/depressed people. I want to pay homage to Ricardo Mustachio’s comment waaay above mine; your example relating to someone watching the war on T.V. vs. being a soldier really hit home. Perfect way to explain it really, well said.
    Finally, I just wanted to say thank you for this piece, helped settle my mind and relate to other people for once.

  4. Gabby says:

    Please don’t ever say: ” have I done something wrong? Why are you so quiet? I must have done something wrong?”

    I know its their best intention, but for me personally, it makes me feel so guilty. Having this said to me has made me consciously give up contact with people I love and now miss very much. We do not want anybody to feel upset because of us!

    • zhiv says:

      Hi Gabby. I know what you mean as I had this done to me by a friend who wasn’t bothered that I was going through a severe depression. She was just concerned that I wasn’t pissed off with her. It made me feel angry and hurt that she didn’t care about the pain I was going through. As long as her insecurities were addressed and her ego received a stroking, she was happy to let me muddle through. I use my experience as an example, to let you know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do. This is about your experience. People are very good at taking someone else’s situation and making it about them. This is the human ego in action. It’s sad that you feel you have to distance yourself from the people you care about. Maybe you could explain that they haven’t done anything wrong, but also explain that this is about you, not them. There’s no need to feel guilty just because you are not stroking someone else’s fragile or gigantic ego. It’s your responsibility to take care of yourself, not be responsible for the emotions or insecurities of others, however much you love them. If your friends can’t get that it isn’t about them, that when they’re with you, it’s about you, it may be time to find people who are mature enough to put their own egos and agendas aside in order to support you.

  5. S.Rose says:

    Just a few that I really get sick of hearing:

    When people have the nerve to bring religion into it or ask(ARGH)why we don’t go to church.”Just pray and it’ll go away”, “if you really believed in God you wouldn’t have depression” or my all-time fave,”It’s a demon in you”…why do I get the opinion some of these people would just as soon burn us at the stake…

  6. Andrea says:

    This is absolutely ridiculous. I can’t believe you actually said not to tell a depressed person not to kill themselves. Articles like this are the reason depression and suicide are so prevalent in today’s world. Stop glamorizing it and telling people who are trying to help that they are wrong.

    • zhiv says:

      Dear Andrea, people don’t become depressed or suicidal because of articles like this. Nobody is glamourising anything here. The trouble with telling a depressed person not to kill themselves is that often the well meaning person has no idea what the depressed person is going through. Often the well meaning person will provide a lecture on why the depressed person should keep themselves alive. But the well meaning person probably isn’t equipped to properly help the depressed person and so may actually make the situation worse, by minimising or dismissing the suicidal person’s real pain. If a suicidal person is intent on killing themselves, they will kill themselves, and no amount of cajoling, disapproving, or persuading otherwise will help. And in the end, if someone wishes to take their own life, that is their choice, not yours, not mine, theirs. Our feelings about their situation does not come into it. Contrary to public belief, talking about suicide with a suicidal person will not make them kill themselves. Rather, if you let the person know you are willing to listen without judging, or inserting your own personal views on suicide, they will have a chance to make sense of their feelings. And if you let them know their views and feelings are important, they may feel reassured enough to let you direct them to expert help . However, just telling a suicidal person ‘don’t kill yourself’ gives them nothing to work with, nothing positive to hold on to. You are imposing your own opinions and values on them and that is not helpful. Unfortunately people like yourself are not equipped to deal with a suicidal scenario. People will kill themselves. That is just a fact when you’re dealing with mental illness. Simply saying ‘don’t do it’ will resolve nothing. Rather, it’s better that people contemplating suicide know they can turn to people like us, who understand, have been there, and are comfortable talking about suicide, than people like you, who don’t appear to have much knowledge on the subject, and whose personal opinions and values are apparently more important than the lives of the people you are talking about.

  7. Andrea says:

    Things not to say to any human ever: ” I will hang you by your legs upside down, skin you alive and then deep fry you before publicly disowning you and denying your pitiful existence.”

  8. Sara says:

    This post has been very helpful. It’s nice to see that there are other people who also feel this way. One thing that I absolutely hate is when my friend says, “It’s okay, I understand. Sometimes I feel sad too.” But she does not understand at all, and her “sad” is completely different from my “sad”. Her kind of sadness is the kind that she can get over the next day but with depression you can’t just “be strong and get better”. It’s much much more complex than that. I appreciate that she’s trying to help but it just feels worse when someone pretends they understand even though they have no idea.

  9. A says:

    i feel depressed bcz of friends
    Life is jst complicated !!!
    Dont get answers wht to do !!
    Had friends used to be with them smoke up , fun , enjoyment and all but now , but they started putting me down down every time, making me fell like i cant cope up with them , making funn of me , using me when they needed a car , making me angry, using my money and back bitching me ,making me feel like i a fool , ignoring me ..
    i left them because of this !!
    but now feel like wanna solution because i feel like i was something wrong with me or they were wrong to me!!!

    • zhiv says:

      Hi A, ‘friends’ like that are not friends at all, they are users, who will pick up anyone they feel is useful to them and drop when they feel you are no longer ‘useful’, or when they are faced with the actual seriousness of being a real friend. You didn’t do anything wrong. They did you wrong by using you for what they could get from you. It may be useful for you to find a depression support group in your area, if there are any, and also it may be time for you to look in the mirror and start telling yourself that it’s time for you to begin establishing boundaries in your personal life. There are things a human can stand for a long time before they cannot take it anymore. It sounds like you are at this stage in your life, and this is a good thing. Once you establish the things you are not prepared to accept, you will find yourself gravitating towards people who will respect your boundaries. These are real friends. You can write down your boundaries; things like ‘I will give everybody one chance. If they use me, abuse me, make fun of me or my illness, then I will let them go. Once I let them go, their absence will create a space for a new, better friend to enter my life’. You can keep this list with you until it becomes embedded and you instinctively learn who you can trust and who is best avoided. It is hard going, and you will slip up, but once the people around you realise you will not stand for any nonsense, insults or abusive behaviour from them or anyone else, they will think twice before crossing the boundaries you have established for yourself. You will garner respect, and a circle of real friends who will support you, and you will all know exactly where you stand with each other. Try and see these awful people as a hard lesson; they have taught you that you need to stay away from people who behave like them. There are so many warm, loving and supportive people in this world, who do not take advantage of vulnerable people like yourself, but who nurture them and make their lives better. These are the people that will come into your life once you decide to seek them out. And the so-called ‘friends’ who exploited you will soon find themselves friendless, or with other shallow, nasty people who exploit them. You do not need to be around that mess. Remember, that if these so-called ‘friends’ come round you again, trying to persuade you back into their nasty little group, that if they used you once, they will, without fail, use you again. They have no reason to change, so let them go on their merry way while you start building new and valuable friendships with genuine, supportive and good people.

  10. Ariane Brown says:

    Read a book called the happiness trap explains how we constantly fight for positive emotions without allowing our natural negative motions to flow. It’s natural!!! It’s all natural you got to take the good with the bad you can’t force positivity all the time. So unrealistic.

  11. Emily Burch says:

    Hi you guys. I read this article, and found myself a little bit upset. My mother is suffering with severe depression, and I would say just about all of these things to her. I did so just tonight. Her depression is so bad that I’m scared when I wake up, she won’t be here anymore. She tells me she feels like a failure, and like she’s climbing up a wall that will never end. I understand I will never be able to comprehend what she is meaning, but the pills, and suicidal tendencies are scaring me. My daughter and I live with her, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t abandon her. Does anyone know how to help? Does therapy help? What can I do? I want my mom back.

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  15. Semolina says:

    Several good friends are going through or have gone through major depression. I hope you find the support you need. If you are in China where medical care is cheap (but lousy usually), don’t hesitate to get a full blood profile at a local hospital. Although depression has it’s causes, it’s harder to deal with it if you also might have severe anemia, low vitamin D levels, thyroid issues, food allergies, etc. If your body is less run down, you might have more physical and mental strength to fight your depression. I’m sure you are under good care, but just thought i would mention it just in case.

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  16. Kristi says:

    Last night I was trying to tell my husband that I’ve been spiralling into depression after losing our beloved dog. I’ve suffered from depression for years, but it’s been mostly controlled with anti-depressants. He told me to just get over it already! It was just a dog, and that he hasn’t even wanted to come home from work to me lately because I was bringing him down, making our 8 year old daughter worry, and that I should just get out and get some excersize, or clean the house. I tried to explain that it doesn’t just work like that. That excersize does help, but that even the thought of taking a shower exhausts me. He won’t even try to understand, and gets mad at me for not snapping out of it. I’m doing everything I know, to fix myself, but it’s not enough for him!

  17. emogirl says:

    Haii…
    Thank you for making this, its just as how I feel…Im depressed and thanx for making me realise that im not alone… .__.

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  19. hxh says:

    That’s exactly why i don’t get it! Thankyou!

  20. hopeless says:

    you have no idea about any of my life. if you have never been depressed you never will get it

  21. Apophrades says:

    Depression is also a condition that is caused by things other than feelings. Mine, like most people that I know, suffer from depression that stems from a chemical imbalance. I have a neurological condition that, without warning, can cause paralysis, aphasia, and extreme depression despite the fact that I am on chemotherapy, high dosages of vitamins, and stron antidepressants.

  22. nochnoch says:

    Hi Apophrades

    Thanks for adding to the discussion. Yes depression is also caused by chemical imbalance so as you suggest, we need to understand the root cause to find the right solution!

    Noch Noch

  23. Bryan Bray says:

    Hey thanks you just pointed out that its not peoples fault that there depressed. scientificly to:)

  24. SJ says:

    Noch Noch
    How do we find and understand the root cause of our depression?
    Thanks

  25. nochnoch says:

    Hi SJ

    I think we all have different ways to find out and have different reasons. AS I am not a professional medic I can only share my experience. For me it was through anger. Through my anger and crying, I started realizing there were more emotions under the anger, i noted down the emotion under the anger – was it disappointment, sadness, belittlement, frustration, being ignored… etc? then with the help of my psychologist, we did Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, where I wrote down also the behaviour associated with these emotions, how did I act, what did I say. Eventually, I also wrote down what I was thinking at that incident. Slowly my thoughts became clearer, and I could look back into the past and find a lot of little things which hurt me in the past which I have suppressed or never processed in a healthy way, which became accumulated anger and stress. Then with each incident, I had to process it in my mind and let it go.

    Another thing was stress, I had to identify the ways the environment, others, and myself caused stress for me, where my stress level was and how did I cope. I realized I did not cope as well as I thought

    I cannot rule out hereditary depression but my parents and ancestors were never diagnosed so I wouldn’t know. My depression was not a long standing biological problem, so it became primarily a mental health issue. Most doctors deduced the depression and other somatic illnesses I suffered to be caused by stress.

    This was how I found out what caused and the root of my depression

    Hope this helps
    NN

  26. Mark Welsh says:

    I am a house painter- I am trained as a classical artist, but no one was waiting to pay me to be one after my training- So I began painting historic homes. This work is not the most intellectually difficult one could have picked to occupy ones thoughts, but it has provided me with ample opportunity to bear witness to my own though processes, and what states of awareness they can contribute to, be it depression or exhalted states of realization. The last thing most people want is free intellectual time to ponder topics that could trigger depression or tipping one to question their world & life view that might push them out of their comfort zone, even if their comfort zone is sadly, being depressed. But it has afforded me to become familiar with places within I’d rather avoid.

    Many things have occurred to me over the decades about depression, and it’s many subtle layers and colors. I say layers because I have experienced moments of clarity in my musings that some depressions are healthy and spiritually proper reactions to what is wrong in the world and within ourselves. It is a warm/ spiritual depression born of an opening of our hearts to what is not right within or without and we are admitting to it with intent of working for change.

    My point to is that , some depressions, are not your depression, but you have awareness of it’s presence due to your proximity to it’s infecting you. This was great news for me, that some of my depressions were my cellular memory of having experienced others depression and this knowing gave me distance inside to allow it to be present with out identifying with it.
    This disassociation from certain depressions gave me interior freedom and confidence that it would not overpower me as it once had.

    M

  27. nochnoch says:

    Hi Mark

    I am not sure I completely understand what you mean by disassociation from certain depressions, but nonetheless, depression have also given me some clarity in my musings and helped me become more self-aware. This blog is a journey for my ups and downs, depressed or not

    Thanks again for your input and adding a dimension to the discussion

    NN

  28. Ricardo Mustachio says:

    You’re damn right.

    That’s why I stopped trying to explain it at all (at least 90 % of the time). Sometimes though, people who “have been” depressed, versus people who actually have depression, believe they *get it* and just like them, all you have to do is get a puppy, or go for a walk, or toughen up and get the job done, whatever that might be. Its like people who have seen war on the military channel tell a soldier with ptsd “that doesn’t look so bad”.

    my contribution to things not to say to a depressed person:

    “Back in my day you didn’t have time to sit and worry, no one knew what it was and we…. spent less time in our heads/ just got the job done ’cause we had to/ didn’t have the luxury of spending all day whining…”

    how i felt: Incredulous! How could one be so condescending? So obtuse? How many are so ignorant to realities beyond their tiny and ever-limited spectrum of experiences? Shocked at the complete lack of tact and perspective I silently foam at the mouth, speechless yet rabid. Not knowing where to start. Or how.

    What I thought/did: RANT!!!! in my head, for like 20 minutes strait. Swallow the loss, go green at the gills for a bit and grab a drink or six to stop the f*#^&ing caring so damn much factor and work for hours to build the perfect rebuttal, only to weekly fart out a few words to a disinterested, older-generation, mightier-than-though know-it-all.

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about Noch Noch

Noch Noch is born and raised in Hong Kong and Australia. She has also studied / worked / lived in the US, France, UK, Japan, The Netherlands, China, and has travelled to more than 40 countries. Noch Noch loves travelling and her curiosity in foreign cultures and languages has led her to enjoy her life as an international executive for the last 7 years in the banking & finance industry. However, she was forced to take time off work in 2011 due to her illnesses and now spends her time in recovery, cooking, practising Chinese calligraphy, reading and writing – in short, learning to take care of herself and letting out the residual work stress.