Serena Malcolm

I’m a 30 year old wife and mother. My two great loves are my family and writing, and blogging allows me to combine the two.

7things 300x300 7 things you should avoid saying to someone with depressionI received a comment on my last post Depression: How to Recognize and Respond from a fellow sufferer. She explained that one of the things she can’t bear is when a well-wisher tells her what she should do when she’s depressed. I empathize with that.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment; it’s just that, if I’m in crisis, certain responses are more hurtful than helpful. So I have compiled a list of things that you should avoid saying to someone who is depressed, along with some appropriate alternatives.


1. There are people worse off than you / It’s not the end of the world

I appreciate that, using one’s rational brain, these statements are true. But when I’m in crisis I find it hard to see past my own problems. It may not be the end of the world, but to me, at that time, it is the end of my world. It’s not that I’m being selfish, or that I can’t sympathize with others, it’s just that my brain is fogged and perspective is nigh on impossible.

2. Cheer up

These two little words can be so damaging. It’s like telling a person on a diet to ‘lose weight’. Obviously that’s is the ultimate goal, but making it sound like it’s easy, is very hurtful to a person in crisis.

3. I know how you feel / I’ve been there

Unless you really do know how I’m feeling you should not say this. And even if you do know how I’m feeling, this is not about you, it’s about me. Again, it may seem selfish, but depression often makes people internalize.

4. Why don’t you just [……] / You need to [……]

Everyone has advice. Everyone thinks they’re an expert. And you may think that you’re helping, but I prefer to be guided towards a solution on my own terms and not told what to do.

5. It’ll be OK

Believe or not, when I’m in crisis I know that I’ll be OK… eventually. A woman in labor knows that the baby will arrive… eventually, but knowing doesn’t lessen the pain. It is the same with depression.

6. How do you feel?

This may seem like a sensible thing to ask, but when I’m depressed, describing how I feel is very difficult. You will probably be met with a very frustrated “I don’t know!” and not much else.

7. Nothing

This is the worst this you can say to someone who is depressed. Silence is just as damaging as poorly chosen words, if not more so.


So what can/should you say to someone with depression?

talk 300x199 7 things you should avoid saying to someone with depression

© Shae Cardenas | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Firstly, talk. Break the silence. Try questions like ‘do you want to talk?’, ‘what can I do?’, ‘what do you need?’, ‘what do you think might help?’

You may be faced with some ‘I don’t knows’, but keep trying (without overdoing it – maybe once a day). Tell them that you are there whenever they’re ready. If nothing else, it shows you are being supportive and are willing to help. And one day they may surprise you and give you an answer you can work with.

Once they start to open up, help them to focus on the positives. For example, if they say ‘I’m a useless mother’ try asking them to tell you about something good they’ve done for their children. If they answer ‘nothing’, try suggesting something like, ‘what about the time you […..]?’

Pay them direct, sincere compliments. Be specific. Instead of saying ‘I think you’re a great person’, try ‘I really appreciated that time you […..]’.

Above all, keep talking. I don’t mean literally, of course! What I mean is, don’t give up on them. They may have all but given up on themselves, and if you give up too, it will make things worse.

Be prepared to get nothing back at first, be prepared to get frustrated, to be ignored – to be shouted at even – but keep talking.

It may feel like you aren’t making a difference but, providing you stay sincere and positive, believe me, you are.


Top Photo credit: ’7 Things’ by Serena Malcolm © 2013

What do you think?

2 Responses to “7 things you should avoid saying to someone with depression”

  1. Mary Anne Ostrum Says:

    Thank you for this. My husband suffers from depression and although we have been together for over 20 years I still have no idea HOW he feels. I am not a personal sufferer of depression and have no true concept of what he or any of my friends that suffer with depression go through. Sometimes as an observer it is hard to know what to do, what they want me to do and this helps me tremendously. Thank you.

  2. Serena Malcolm Says:

    You are very welcome. It’s just so difficult when we don’t know what our loved ones are going through health-wise – or otherwise – so I’m glad you found this useful.

    Thank you for the feedback!

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