What NOT to say to a person with depression (and what you can say instead)

Being a person with major depression, I’ve had my share of people who tried to be helpful and totally messed it up.  It can be hard to talk to someone who is depressed and even harder to be encouraging if you have no idea what you’re doing.  So here are some pointers on how to communicate with a friend or loved one who is depressed.

  1. “Just snap out of it!” – Ok – duh! Why didn’t we think of that?!  Oh yeah – because true depression doesn’t work like that!  You’d be amazed how many people will say this thinking they are being helpful.  Trust me, it isn’t!

What to say instead – “I love you and I’m here for you.”  Isn’t that nice and simple?  Knowing that we have someone there for us if we need them and that we are not alone is something that can do wonders for us.


  1. “What happened? Why are you depressed now?” – I get this one a lot, even from people who know better.  The answer usually is, “I have no freaking clue! It just happened!”  Major depression doesn’t need a reason, it simply is and it sucks.  

What to say instead – “Do you want to talk about it?”  The answer will probably be ‘no,’ but it’s nice to know that we have someone who cares if we do.


  1. “You aren’t thinking of killing yourself, are you?” – Talk about getting right to the punch line with no tact whatsoever! Most of the time suicide is not the first thing on our minds.  Bad thoughts – yes – lots and lots of bad thoughts, but if you jump into the suicide talk it can make us defensive and we’ll shut down.  Just don’t!

What to say instead – “Just how bad are those bad thoughts?”  This comes across better and we will be more open to talking to you about what we’re really thinking.  We want to talk about it, but need to do so in a safe, non-judgmental environment.  If you come on too strong, we won’t feel safe to speak our minds freely.


  1. “Come to this party with us. You need to get out!” – While this is nice and, yes, we do need to get out, a party or large gathering is not going to be fun for us. Too many people can just hit home how isolated and useless we already feel and make it worse.

What to say instead – “Let’s go grab a coffee.”  One on one time is the best way to go.  Like I said, getting us out of the house is a great step, and doing it with just one or maybe two friends makes us feel safe and loved.  We are more apt to open up and share what we’re feeling.


  1. “You know it’s all in your head, right?” – Well again, duh! You’re right – it is in our head.  Our brain isn’t functioning right.  How exactly is that helpful?

What to say instead – “Tell me about what you’re going through.”  If you want to know what it’s like, ask us.  Don’t assume just because you’ve been sad before you understand what it’s like to be truly depressed.  But don’t act surprised if some really dark stuff starts coming out.


  1. “You should get out and get some exercise. You’ll feel better” – Please don’t assume you know better than our doctors and therapist as to what will make us “feel better.” While exercise is a great way to help fight depression, when we are in the throws of it, hitting the gym is not going to fix it.  If anything, it can make us feel worse about ourselves crippling our already fragile self-esteem.

What to say instead – “Let’s go for a walk.”  Walking is a great way to get some exercise without any stress to perform.  While we’re walking, talk to us about surface things without expecting much from us.  We’ll talk if we feel like it.  Just know we appreciate your company even if we can’t express it.


  1. “How are you feeling?” – We’re feeling depressed! Why do you need to know so often?  I get it, you want status updates, but until we start acting “normal” again, you pretty much know the answer to the question.  So don’t remind us of just how messed up our brain is right now.

What to say instead – “Let me tell you about…”  Talk to us about whatever is going on with you.  we may seem uninterested, but if you can get us to think about something other than our despair, you’re helping!


  1. “What’s wrong with you?!” – Believe me, if we knew why we were this way, we would fix it! But right now we are depressed and you asking that way makes us feel like more of a deformed alien that we already do.  Thanks for that.

What to say instead – “Do you want to tell me what you’re thinking?”  Again – the answer will probably be ‘no,’ but it’s comforting to know that you care enough to learn about what we’re going through.


  1. “You’re just looking for attention.” Um – no we’re not!  In fact, we’d rather just melt away into the bed, thank you.  Not sure why people think this is remotely appropriate, but I’ve heard it.  We don’t need to be judged – we really want to be understood.

What to say instead – “What can I do to help you?”  If you really care about us, this is one way to show it.  You may get a “nothing” as a response, but you just may get us to open up and talk to you.  Talking is good.  Especially if you can get our mind on things other than our rotten brain thoughts.


  1. “Everyone has bad days.” – True. But please don’t downplay our pain. What we’re going through is very real.  It is a struggle day to day and sometimes minute to minute.

What to say instead – “I see you struggling and I’m proud of you for fighting.”  We need to know we are not alone and being a cheerleader of sorts can help us feel like we have someone on our side.


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