Having been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD two years ago, I have heard the most laughable reactions to my mental health issues, that have either tried to ‘trivialize and downplay’ my mental health struggles or make me seem like I was just ‘acting depressed’ to get attention. But here’s the ‘real T’; because people’s reactions to me getting upset over the years or feeling numb was to ‘tell me to get over it’ or to ‘stop being a drama queen’, it wasn’t until I was 22 that I even had the strength or ‘desire’ to seek help for the mental health struggles and crack the code as to why-as others put it- I was so God Damn emotional all the time. So not only did friends and families negative reaction towards me struggling with depression, ‘downplay’ the severity of what I was really going through, but also made me feel ashamed to even ‘contemplate’ asking for help, as in my opinion I was just being dramatic and there was nothing wrong with me. Yet what I (and others) did not take into account was the issues I had dealing with as a young child: aged 2 and a half I was abandoned by my biological mother, aged 6 I was abused by my stepmother and aged 10 I was taken into care. Not only was I dealing with ‘abandonment issues’ for most of my life, but I was also physically beaten and emotionally manipulated, affecting my self-confidence and self-esteem. Oh and of course the cherry on top was being bullied throughout much of my teen and young adult years, making me feel like I was -and would never be- good enough.
I would feel the sweet release as I whispered poisonous thoughts into my reflection in the mirror, relishing the criticisms that I would throw my way. Some days the demons would feed off what the bullies had said about me , that I looked like a boy, that I was ugly, that no one could ever love me, while other times, like blood sucking leeches they would slurp their way through a history lesson. They would dictate the tale of parents who had abandoned me, of parental figures who thought nothing of abusing their own step-child, of supposed friends who would make comments about my appearance and intellect as though it was perfectly funny to call me ugly and stupid. But whose laughing now? I didn’t know it at the time but throughout much of my childhood and teen years, I was struggling with depression. I knew that I was the ‘anxious type’ as people would call me and in fact the regular panic attacks were a testament to that very fact. But what I didn’t know is that someone who to others ‘appears to be the happiest person’ can often be the person who is the most unhappy. There were times where I was on a cocktail of emotions, I would call it my Rolodex of Life, one minute I was up and the next minute I was down. People would tell me to ‘snap out of it’ and stop ‘calling out for attention’ whenever I tried to honestly express my feelings, so for years I would dismiss and ignore my emotions, and trivialize them like others had done in the past.
But thinking about ‘killing yourself’ and dreaming of a world without you in it, where the pain has been removed and you are cold in the ground, is a scary reality to face. Not many people know this, but there have been many moments in my life, where I have thought about pulling the plug, where I have wondered whether people would care if I disappeared tomorrow, what life would be like, when I would be at peace. When I tried to share these suicidal thoughts with others, I was merely scoffed at, as though my need to ‘take away’ the pain was ‘merely a cry for help’. And yes, ok, maybe some of my actions might have been a cry for help, and maybe if I had been diagnosed sooner, I wouldn’t have had to suffer in silence for so long. But, and its a big but, when you are diagnosed, whether it has been four years or 1, diagnosis doesn’t magically make you better, nor does it mean that you wont be struggling with depression for much of your lifetime. It just means that A. you are getting the help that you need and anyone ‘calling you crazy’ needs to think about their choice of words, B. for the first time someone is listening to you and is ready to hear what you have to say and C. there will be ongoing support, because struggling with depression is not a one time thing but a battle that many of us will continue to face throughout time.
From comments from well meaning friends who try and compare your struggles with depression to their very distant relative, to dodgy platitudes, here are 8 Things You Shouldn’t Say To Someone Struggling With Depression.
You’ll Be Fine Stop Worrying. Everyone Goes Through Tough S**t Sometimes.
Yes granted everyone does go through tough s**t sometimes but telling someone to ‘stop worrying’ or that ‘they will be fine’ will only make someone who is struggling with depression feel worse. When you are at your darkest moment, someone telling you to stop worrying, is likely to make you feel more anxious because now you have to think about the effects of your mental health on others, which can have a tumble sequence of consequences. Because you are worried that by sharing your mental health struggles with others, you are a source of ‘negative or toxic energy’ this will mean that you will be A. less likely to share why or when you are upset and B.think that you are just being dramatic and are worrying for no reason.
Let me tell you something, ok sure we are humans, thus the human condition is riddled with endless tradgedies after tragedies because life is a game of chess and at some point we are all losers. But just because your Nana Deidre got ‘over her’ depression does not mean that it is ok for you to ‘downplay’ another person’s backstory, who is struggling with depression. Of course telling someone that ‘they are going to be ok’ is not seen as a negative statement by any means, as you only want what’s best for them. But if you tell someone to stop worrying, if my own experiences are to go by, it’s only going to make their mental health issues worse.
What Should You Say Instead?
So what should you say? Replace ‘You’ll Be Fine Stop Worrying’ or ‘You Will Be OK’ to ‘I empathize with you wholly and I just want you to know that you are not alone. I am here to listen to you and you can also count on me to be there for you’. Often when someone has depression like myself, we often feel like we are not being listened to. I have had people interrupt me, try and ‘change my backstory’ or even put words into my mouth. Please don’t tell me how I feel. Just shut up and listen. When you take the time out to ‘listen to someone’s story’ until the end, the person struggling with depression will appreciate that you have listened to them. Especially when we are so used to being told what to do.
It’s All In Your Head. Get Over Yourself And Stop Being A Drama Queen
This is one of the worst things that you could say to someone who is struggling with depression; yes depression is a ‘mental heath’ issue, but it does not mean that you are a ‘drama queen’ nor is it all in your head. Having depression is not just consigned to negative or low thoughts about oneself, but it can also lead to physical side effects like nausea, cramps, headaches and more, so please don’t dismiss someone’s mental health struggles. I was often called a ‘Drama Queen’ or a ‘Cry Baby’ because I would cry a lot, but part of the reason I was crying was out of frustration because A. my story was constantly being de-validated, which made me ashamed to seek help and B. There were times when I didn’t know why the f**k I was crying, which only after some serious counselling and cognitive behavioral therapy I realized was due to some pretty ‘heavy shit’. After all you can’t tell me to get over myself and stop being a drama queen when A. I was abused by someone who was meant to be my ‘mother figure’ B. I was bullied by people who were meant to be my friends and C. Was Abandoned By My Mother. I mean that’s some pretty heavy shit to deal with at such a young age and even today I will admit that while I am constantly taking steps to deal with me struggling with depression, there will always be periods in my life where the dark clouds will follow me and I will find it a struggle to overcome. And that’s not to mention other issues I have had to deal with too, but that’s a story for another time.
So What Should You Say Instead?
So let me tell you this, it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to want to scream and shout and it’s ok to have the desire to speak about your mental health. If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, don’t de-validate their story, don’t call them names and don’t assume you know what they are going through. Instead of telling someone how they feel and how they are appearing to others – hello just because I need to talk about having abandonment issues does not make me a spoiled brat!-consider a kinder approach. ‘It is so brave of you to share your struggles with your mental health with me and while I might not understand exactly what you are going through, I am here for you every step of the way. You have a friend in me’. You see what you are doing here is great: you are not claiming to know their story, you are not coaching them on what they should and shouldn’t do. Instead you are offering a helping hand, and just a kind word can be enough to have us reaching for help.
Why Are You Complaining, There Are People With Real Problems
Jeesh that was a little hardcore. I mean yes, I appreciate that I could be worse. However, don’t presume to know me, or my story. You don’t know what I have been through, and what I have had to in order to survive. You should never compare my story to someone elses’s. I mean don’t you think I feel guilty already for -as how you put it- burdening you with my health issues? Did you ever stop to wonder why it is that I trust so few people with how hard struggling with depression can be? OK sure I am pretty open and honest about my mental health online, but it’s not like I actively go out of my way to tell my friends or family that I’m feeling s**tty for this exact reason. I feel baffled that you will tell me to first and foremost not compare myself to others but then in another statement tell me to think of those who ‘have it worse than me’. Yes ok, I feel grateful that I have a roof over my head, but there are many struggles that I go through, that you know nothing about, so please do not compare me to others it’s not cool. By reminding someone who is struggling with depression to be ‘thankful for what they do have’ you can A. make them feel guilty for confiding in you as they feel like you don’t understand their struggles and B. while it is important to find the positives in each day- and I do try and have an optimistic attitude- at the same time it really is imperative that you are honest about how you feel. Hiding your true feelings can have negative consequences in the long run.
So What Should You Say?
Instead of telling someone to be ‘grateful and comparing them to others you should consider the following ‘While life is full of ups and downs I can empathize with your struggles to remain positive and I want you to know that you can talk to me about anything. Why don’t we have a girly day together and do all the things that you love? I would love to spend some time with you’. Often I find it hard to open up to others about my mental health issues because I am worried they will no longer want to spend time with me, so by reassuring someone who has gone out of their way that you understand their struggles and want to spend time together, will allow them to A. feel closer to you, B. feel like that they are not on their own and C. know that even at their lowest point, they can come to you for help.
Stop Complaining And Do Something About It. Then You Will Be Better
So it’s ok for you to ‘complain’ about your relationship issues, but me trying to have an open and honest discourse around mental health is out of the picture? OK Felicia, BYE GIRL BYE. Now hear me out, I am all to happy to listen to your problems because as a friend I will always be here for you and even if you decide to get back with that fuckboy after everything he did, I will stand by you and your decision because you have freedom of choice and that is yours to make. But for you to turn around and tell me that I am just ‘complaining’ is like a kick in the teeth. If I take the time out of my day to make sure that you are ok and listen to your story with an open and non-judgmental heart then by Jeeves, do the bloody same. Also, FYI, telling someone to ‘do something about it’ is all very well and good but be careful of your tone as it is coming across as quite patronizing and condescending. Even when they have ‘done something about it’ it does not mean that they ‘will be better’, as for many like myself depression is an ongoing struggle.
So What Can You Say Instead?
‘ I am so glad that you were open and honest about what you have been going through, that really means a lot that you have shared your story with me. I can imagine that having depression is not easy to deal with, but if you want someone to come with you when you are at the doctors or just need someone to chill with, I’m your pal’. Not only are you acknowledging and showing awareness of their depression but you have also put a feeler out as someone who will hold their hand if need be. Or sometimes I don’t want to think about what I am going through so just talking about s**t for ages is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Why Do You Need Medication? Stop Being An Attention Seeker
I don’t call you an attention seeker for telling me about you having the flu, so why would you downplay me having a mental illness, all because you don’t understand what I am going through? For the record there is nothing attention seeking about needing to take medication for depression and while there are periods in my life where I haven’t used medication, sometimes without the pills its very likely that I am going to do something severe to harm myself so in these cases, yes I do need medication. And remember some weeks are better than others: there have been very bad weeks where I have not taken medication because my mental illness likes to convince me that I am better off without them, there are periods where I don’t need to take medication and I feel great and there are other times where I do take medication because I know I need to. So don’t call me an attention seeker for me wanting to prevent myself from harming, because let me tell you from personal experience that can have messy consequences. And yes not everyone needs medication, but some people do and that’s ok. If the doctor advises that you do something that will reduce you struggling with depression then by all means go for it. But never be the person to put someone down who is clearly trying to get better.
So What Can You Say Instead?
Do your research first and foremost. No two cases are the same and while you might think that your ‘brash, straight talking attitude’ is going to propel them into action, it can have the opposite effect. Granted being addicted to medication, especially for something like a mental health illness, doesn’t always have the best consequences but as long as you are following what your doctor or psychologist has recommended you to take that is what matters. For me I am not on medication as frequently as I was before but having a combination of a supportive friends , medication and therapy has helped me come to terms with my mental health issues. You should consider the following ‘I appreciate your honesty about needing to take medication for your depression and if that is what the doctor has said is best for you , then I stand by their decision. In the meantime, you can talk to me , I hope you know that’. Not only are you reassuring them that you won’t be flaking on them, but you are also showing that you recognize that depression is a clinical illness and like other illnesses does sometimes need to be controlled by medication.
So Does That Mean That You Are Crazy Then? What’s Wrong With You?
When you call someone ‘crazy’ you are not only stereotyping them but you are also trivializing their mental health. Whether you have depression or are bipolar, no mental health illness means that you are crazy. Of course I laugh and joke with my friends that I am crazy ‘in a weird and a fun way’ as opposed to my mental health condition, but when someone goes out of their way to question your sanity and then proceeds to ask ‘well what’s wrong with you then’ it’s demeaning in my eyes. You wouldn’t be so judgmental about someone who has just told you they have Cancer, nor would you ask them ‘why they have cancer’ either. Mental health continues to be such a taboo even today and it frustrates me that people still continue to label us under such derogatory and frankly archaic stereotypes. In reality many mental health issues does not stem from a question of sanity but more from unresolved issues from the past, whether that be abandonment, abuse or anything else. You going out of your way to tell someone who is struggling with depression that they are crazy is not only nasty, but can bring up feelings of ‘inadequacy’ and make them feel like they are as ‘crazy’ as you have made them out to be.
So What Should You Say?
‘Mental Health Issues is no laughing matter and I am proud of you for going outside of your comfort zone and letting me know exactly how you feel. I know it wouldn’t have been easy for you to be so honest and candid about your depression and if there is anything I can do to help please let me know.’ Sometimes all we need is encouragement from our loved ones to not only seek help but also know that in our loved ones eyes what we are going through is not a cry for attention, nor is it because we are crazy. Instead their affirmation will let us know that they know we are speaking about mental health, to raise awareness and educate loved ones on our struggles.
Oh My Uncle Had Depression… But Now He’s Fine
Yes and my uncle also had depression, but that does not mean my struggle with depression is the same as someone else’s, so please don’t be pompous by re-writing my mental health narrative. When you compare someone’s mental health condition to someone else you know, its a backhanded de-validation of the time that the person had spent sharing their struggles with you. Now while your comment might not have had malicious intent and was a misguided attempt to help me feel better, comparing me to others is the worst thing that you can do. You can share your story and we can identify with each other struggles, but using the term ‘oh now they are fine’ does not mean I am going to suddenly feel a million times better. Lets put it this way, would you like it that after you told someone you needed a ‘heart transplant’ that they then regaled a story about a long last relative who they have not seen in 24 years was told they needed a transplant and now they are fine, do you really think that is going to make them feel better? Exactly, no two people’s mental health struggles are the same. Learn to empathize but don’t compare, it’s not cute.
So What Should You Say Instead?
You can still talk about someone you know who has struggled with depression, just make sure that you are careful with your wording. For example ‘I am so touched by your mental health story because it resonates with me so deeply. My Uncle had depression too and while I know that no two mental health struggles are the same, just know that this makes me even more determined to be here for you every step of the way’. You see, instead of telling someone that your uncle had depression and pulled through, with the implication that ‘we will be fine’ you have shown that you have understood through a personal anecdote but also shown that you realize that no two mental health issues are the same.
Go Out And Have Fun. You Will Be Right As Rain In No Time
Let’s Get One Thing Straight, ‘going out’ when all you want to do is sleep or cry can often be a recipe for disaster. I have lost count of the amount of times where I have forced myself to go out because I thought it would make me feel better and what would actually happen is I would spend most of the night crying because there were unresolved issues that I was ignoring and would just push to the side. I remember going to a friends party a while back in my university years which I was nervous about going to as I didn’t know anyone else that was going. Let me tell you it was one of the most awkward experiences I have had to date, because not only was my mental health bad that week but it also shattered my self-esteem. A. everyone had their own little cliques and I was the odd one out and B. I spent the whole evening having to play at being on my phone because noone was speaking to me. And I really did try and make an effort, trying to push down the inward cringing I was feeling and facing my fears. But believe me, when the depression hits and you are feeling low, coupled with feelings of social anxiety and wanting to fit in, you can often feel like you are even more lethargic and down than you were in the first place.
The problem is during university, I would sometimes drink to numb the pain. I didn’t necessarily have a ‘drinking problem’ far from it, but I knew my desire to drink when others were drinking stemmed from a need to not only ‘appear less socially awkward’ but also because I was trying to avoid very real and frightening issues that were affecting me. But now I know my limits and quite frankly the idea of me ‘passed out’ or vomiting the entirety of the night out is not my idea of fun and ultimately will make me feel worse. Instead I would much rather go for dinner with someone than clubbing, but at the same time you cannot tell someone what to do when they are struggling with depression, as even by your well meaning command of telling them ‘to go out and let their hair down’ in my case, it can often leave me feeling depressed for days, as I question why I can’t be like everyone else and enjoy all the parties that they so seem to love. My idea of a good time is simple but I know what I like and you should take that into consideration if you know someone is struggling with depression too.
What Can You Say Instead?
‘ How About We Do Something That You Want To Do Tonight. It can be something as simple as a movie night in or we could go out for dinner, just let me know what you fancy doing. ‘ You see, you are not putting pressure on them to go out but the invitation is there if need be. At the same time if they have anxiety about money, proposing the idea of a movie night in is both free and no pressure, so that is an option for them to mull over as well.
Oh But You Don’t Look Depressed…You’re Making A Song And Dance Out Of Nothing
People don’t tend to understand what they can’t see so they are more likely to empathize with someone who ‘clearly looks ill’ rather than someone who in their eyes looks like the epitome of health. But often the most deadliest of illnesses are the ones you can’t see and you should never discredit someone’s health just because you saw them smiling and laughing that one time. People often say to me ‘Oh but you are always smiling, you can’t possibly be depressed’. First of all what you don’t see is me ‘quite literally hiding away from loved ones for weeks, sometimes months at a time because I see myself as bad company when I am at my lowest.Secondly don’t tell me what I am and what I am not, when there are weeks when all I do is cry. I won’t go into much detail, but this week was one of the hardest to deal with my mental health for a number of reasons that I am not quite ready to talk about. But I will say this, don’t be offended if I take a while to respond to you, don’t think that the ‘glittering sparkly self’ that you see is indicative of who I am at every moment and above all don’t tell me that I am making a song and dance out of nothing because you don’t know my story. It’s very discouraging that people are so quick to call those who raise awareness of their mental health ‘attention seekers’ because do you really think that we are choosing to feel angry, frustrated, upset, numb or all of the above? No of course not, so be quiet and keep your judgmental opinions to yourself. If you don’t have nothing nice to say, then don’t say it at all.
So What Should You Say?
‘You have been going through such a rough time and I applaud that you have been upfront and honest with me about your struggles. Even though I know and can appreciate that you sometimes need some time out to process your feelings, just know that I will still be here for you, whether you want to talk now or in a years time. Never feel like you have to hide your true feelings from me.’ Here you have shown that while you do understand that we sometimes feel the need to do a ‘disappearing act’ on loved ones, it is not because we are ignoring you necessarily but because we are feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to go through the motions of explaining ourselves to people who might not understand our mental health condition. At the same time, knowing that loved ones do understand and don’t take it personally is a plus, and it’s even better if they offer support as it shows you who your true friends really are…
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Please note, I am not a healthcare professional, nor do I claim to be. These are my own opinions, and based on my personal experiences. If you need help please contact your doctor, or a healthcare professional. Never be ashamed to ask for help. You deserve to be happy, and to be listened to.