I've had depression for years, and have been in several situations where I've tried to exchange words with someone who clearly didn't understand how to talk with me when I was having one of my "down" days. It was both unproductive for them and harmful to me.
Although depression affects each person differently at different times, it's better to believe that people with depression usually see the glass half empty, while others see it half full.
And since each person with depression reacts differently, let me tell you from personal experience what family and friends shouldn't say to someone with the illness.
From one depressed adult to all the non-depressed adults out there, here are the five things I'd like to stop hearing:
1. "I know exactly what you're going through."
Unless you suffer from depression yourself, you can't possibly understand. Saying this will automatically close any channel you were hoping to open for a conversation. Immediately they'll scoff, or maybe roll their eyes, but they're probably going to think, "You have no idea," unless they know with certainty that you've been down a similar road.
You're trying to empathize, and that in itself is great! But saying, "I know what you're going through," or, "I understand where you're coming from," can come off as patronizing and dismissive.
2. "Suck it up."
That's pretty much the opposite of being empathetic.
As much as depressed people wish they could "tough it out" to get over their illness, depression doesn't work via an on or off switch. Keep in mind depression isn't a choice; it's an illness.
3. "Maybe you should try learning from your mistakes."
Many people think that pointing out flaws will help a person correct past issues. From my experience, this couldn't be further from the truth.
You're not informing them of anything they haven't thought about a thousand times until the brain starts to physically hurt. Trust me on this.
But what you are doing is enforcing this belief — whether it's true or not — that they're nothing but a failure. See how this is counterproductive to motivating someone you care about?
4. "You're just being _____."
This sounds obvious, but insults can slip out without your noticing or meaning for it to happen. Calling someone with depression "lazy" is one of the more common counterproductive accusations I hear.
No ifs, ands or buts about it. It's an automatic trigger, insult and personal stab in the gut — this is from all-too-personal experience.
5. "Can I just stop you for a second to say ..."
Don't listen just because you're waiting to add another point. Listen just to listen, to everything they're trying to tell you. Chances are, they already think you won't believe what they're saying, and simply jumping in without responding or giving feedback to what they've told you can solidify that belief.
Nobody wants that.
I hope this list provides you with ways to go about opening a discussion with a loved one who's suffering from depression. Keep in mind that it's not your job to light a fire under their butts. What would benefit them more is to actively listen to them, be attentive to their problems, and find a way for the two of you to work through it in a manner that can empower and motivate them!
Talk with, not to them, and you’ll be on your way to a positive discussion.
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