Depression is not an uncommon mental ailment. While there’s no “cure,” with the right treatment i.e. therapy and/or medication it can be managed. Unfortunately, depression and mental health only became “en vogue” in the past decade. Prior to that, transparency regarding our mental state was almost unheard of.
The American Psychiatric Association defines depression as “a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work and at home.”
The mind is connected with the body. Thus, whenever one experiences mental turbulence physical problems may follow, depending on the severity of the symptoms. Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. You may find yourself wanting to convey that very sentiment to your friend or family member who’s suffering from depression. Here’s a list of six things you shouldn’t say and why they’re considered harmful.
“Stop being negative.”
Regardless of your intention, this may come across as callous to the recipient. I’ve been told by some people to “just stop being negative” whenever I was depressed. Fun fact: depression isn’t the act of “being” or “thinking” negatively. You’re not holding the reins. It’s a chemical imbalance that doesn’t need you to drive the train.
Saying something like this can be detrimental to the psyche. You’re essentially telling your friend that they’re a burden. Their perceived “negativity” is putting a damper on you. They may want to withdraw. To further extricate themselves from you and the world around them. They may view themselves as burdensome to their loved ones and a “broken record.” This statement perpetuates that line of thinking.
Depression constitutes a myriad of emotions beyond “negativity.” There’s sadness. Anger. Paranoia. Irritability is also linked with depression and anxiety. Feelings of hopelessness and despair. Even “numbness” or lack of interest in anything that used to light your internal fire.
“Stop being negative” is another way of saying that the other person is to blame. That they’re at the root of their problem. The last thing your friend needs to hear right now is that they are the issue. Nobody is at fault when depression strikes.
“Think positive thoughts.”
Oh, if only it were that simple. If only life were a fairytale wherein happy thoughts drove the action. Where positive thinking can solve all the world’s problems. When you’re entrenched in a chasm of darkness with seemingly no means of escape, “thinking positive thoughts” can seem like a useless solution to a much larger issue.
While being in the throes of a depressive episode can be painful, it’s also vital to remember that you must feel what you feel. The only way around something of this magnitude is to go through it. Acknowledge your dark emotions, sit with them, and then release them into the wild. Last week, I discussed how to do that in reference to Dr. David Hawkins’ legendary book, Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender.
The above statement can come across as condescending as if there’s a simple solution to the whole shebang. News flash: there’s not. Depression is usually hereditary and deeply rooted in trauma. Most commonly, the trauma stems from our formative years. Of course, this isn’t said to negate the power of positive thinking. However, depression and mental health are far more complicated than that. It’s why people seek outside support for assistance — battling that kind of poisonous mental monster can be difficult when you’re all by your lonesome.
Uttering these commonplace phrases cheapens the other person’s situation and, inadvertently, dismisses it. There’s nothing truly wrong! Just think happy thoughts and it’ll all go away!
“Turn that frown upside down!” “Did you know it takes more muscles to frown than to smile?” Word to the wise: it is possible to smile through the pain. And that’s not necessarily a healthy way to heal. You need to pinpoint those negative emotions and forge a path through them. Otherwise, a smile is the physical form of suppression if there’s no work behind it.
Think of it like this: “Just smile!” is akin to “Just forget about it!” without blatantly making that statement. It’s a subtle way of being dismissive. Instead of getting to the root of the problem, just pretend that nothing is amiss. That all is well. Even when all is truly not well.
To me, this is part of that old-world mentality cultivated by past generations. “Smiling through the pain” or carrying on is the epitome of strength. Never getting emotional is what “strong” people do. It’s how they thrive. But this kind of thinking is what we’re trying to avoid. To circumvent. There are a wide array of “strengths,” and sensitivity is definitely one of them. Acknowledging your feelings. Being transparent about your mental health journey is also a sign of strength and fortitude. It will be painful, but the other side awaits. One that spells victory and is bereft of suffering.
“People get sad all the time.”
There it is again. I’ve heard this one before. Being “sad” versus being depressed aren’t synonymous. You’re sad when you don’t win bingo. Or when a store doesn’t have your size for a coveted cute blouse. You’re depressed when you undergo abuse. You’re depressed when you lose a loved one. While sadness is part of the depression, it’s certainly not the only emotion associated with it, whereas sadness is just … sadness.
Of course, you’re going to endure times of sorrow throughout your life. Nobody is happy 24/7. Without the “negative” emotions, you’d never know true happiness. But a statement like, “People get sad all the time” is another way of shooing off someone’s pain. It’s dismissing the person in front of you. Saying their depression is inconsequential because “everyone gets sad.” Sure, however; not everyone suffers from depression. There’s the discrepancy.
According to Verywell, a study was conducted in 2017 regarding adults in the United States experiencing a “major depressive episode.” Here are their findings:
“According to data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 17.3 million adults in the United States—equaling 7.1% of all adults in the country—have experienced a major depressive episode in the past year.”
That’s quite a lot of people who struggle with depression in some form or other. Major depressive episodes tend to include more than just mere sadness. Irregular sleep patterns i.e. sleeping too much or sleeping too little. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Changes in appetite or weight. Decreased energy and daily fatigue. So much plays into depression besides “being sad.”
“Suck it up.”
You’ve probably heard this before. Someone tells you to “Suck it up” whenever you’re upset. More than likely it’s coming from a member of an older generation who grew up internalizing their pain. Who was told that men are men and that it’s uncouth to show emotion. Oh, and we don’t talk about that. It’s not proper — not in polite society, whatever that means. Again, this is incredibly harmful.
Never tell someone who’s crumbling under the weight of depression to “suck it up.” Invite them to vent. Let it all out. Talk about their feelings. Essentially, the alternative is to “Shut up and don’t cry about it. Life sucks, so get a helmet.” This mentality is a virus. So, break the cycle. Be a bastion of support for your friend. People who struggle with depression need a tightly knit support circle. Friends who’ll understand and love them no matter the state of their mental health.
“Suck it up” isn’t a form of “tough love.” It deepens the false narrative that strength is derived from stoicism and lack of emotion. It’s telling that loved one that their wellbeing is insignificant. It doesn’t matter. Be the one to remind them that it does.
“There’s someone out there who has it worse than you.”
This one is a biggie. I can’t count how many times I’ve had this statement hurled at me over the years. It’s the “Oppression Olympics,” which is a thing that doesn’t need to exist. So, the logic here is that because people have been plagued by circumstances objectively worse than mine that my feelings don’t matter. While some may spin it as a way of seeing the glass as half full, it’s just another statement that dismisses someone’s pain. “Hey, at least you don’t have it as bad as that guy! Count your blessings!”
There’s certainly nothing wrong with being thankful. You can recognize your own suffering as a separate entity from another person’s painful situation. There’s no competition. No need to pit people against each other. No prize for whoever has the most crappy life. We can acknowledge everyone’s pain as wholly substantial without invalidating anyone. Your feelings are valid.
Saying “There’s someone out there who has it worse than you” is a load of rejective tripe that doesn’t help the sufferer. Instead, remind your friend that their feelings are entirely valid and deserve to be heard.
Depression can be a long, twisted, and darkened path for those who are afflicted by it. Be a support system for your friends. And never, ever, utter the above statements to them. Accept them with open, loving arms. Remind them that they’re not alone on their journey.