Many people think that saying cliché words of encouragement will make their depressed friends feel better. In reality, the opposite is true.
Depression is among the most widespread mental illnesses. Millions of people in the US and worldwide suffer from it today. What is more, about 80% of sufferers don’t receive any treatment because they are shy or not ready to admit this condition’s severity.
Pop culture has taught us to take depression as nothing but a bad mood, seasonal fatigue, or emotional burnout. Who didn’t hear anything like “Oh, I’m so depressed today”? Yes, all experience waves of melancholy sometimes: a lack of sleep, problems at work, quarrels, or weather can influence our condition. But once surrounding circumstances change, the blues disappear.
It’s not how depression works: its symptoms are many, it influences our lives, and it disappears naturally in 40% of cases only. Sufferers and their acquaintances alike can underestimate this illness by far.
When in depression, your friend has a twisted perception of reality. It’s like looking through glasses transforming the world into shadow tones and highlighting all negative traits of a person. In other words, a teeny-tiny mote turns into a huge log in the eyes of depressed individuals; and it’s so hard for them to carry it.
Depressed people can’t push themselves to smile, care, work, or think positive. Negative emotions bear hard on them, breaking them down. And that is why most phrases and words of encouragement you say to boost a friend in depression do nothing but harm.
Want to help a depressed friend? Then it’s high time to forget these words of encouragement.
1. “Don’t get knickers in a twist.”
What you consider tilly-vally may not be so for your friend. So while casting a positive light on the situation, you may diminish their belief system. That is why try to walk in their shoes before saying the words like that. When anxious, your closed one looks through the wrong end of a telescope and places a bigger emphasis on everything.
Instead, encourage them by reminding them how well they dealt with panic and problems before.
2. “Calm down!”
The problem with depression is that those suffering from it can’t control their emotional condition. They would calm down if they could, wouldn’t they? So instead of cliché words of encouragement that may have an opposite effect, use words a la calls to action: “Let’s walk in a park, maybe,” “What about meditation together?” etc.
A relaxing pastime will help your friend while sorrow.
3. “Just beat it!”
It’s not fear or phobia but mental illness to overcome. So, calls to deal with it on the spot or attempts to dare a friend may deepen the depression rather than beat it.
Address the paradox of human brain work: say empathetic phrases such as “I am so sorry for you to feel bad” because they show understanding and help depressed people to calm down and relax a little.
4. “Everything is gonna be okay.”
Hack phrases never have a meaningful effect. Why? Because no one puts faith in them. The reaction might be something like “Yeah, right…” or “Who said?” That is why your attempt to instill unwarranted confidence into a depressed friend will work for a while but disappear once he or she doesn’t hear any proof of why it’s so.
Don’t use blanket statements. Allow your friend to embrace their worry — instead of banishing it.
5. “I’m depressed, too. What shall we do?”
This one is another overused phrase intending to convince a depressed person that he or she is not the only one who feels bad. Even if it’s true, don’t focus on it! We know that a bad mood is infective, and once we spend some time with sad people – we start singing the blues, too. But saying such words of encouragement to a friend like that, you risk creating a cross-feeding with negative emotions.
Don’t grieve. Try diverting actions instead: invite a friend to watch movies, practice mindfulness, or learn hygge — a heart-warming lesson from Danish people.
6. “There are others feeling worse than you.”
The depression of your friend won’t disappear because there’s a war, hunger, or epidemic somewhere in the world. No connection lies between these problems bluntly, but, on the other hand, such-like words of encouragement can make things worse and cultivate a sense of guilt. So, beware of saying them.
7. “Accept it.”
Big chances are, your friend has already accepted it. He or she might be afraid of therapists, but he or she has, by all means, tried “medicines” a la alcohol or heart-to-heart conversations. Needless to say, these words of encouragement bring no value.
Instead, let your depressed friend know you are the one who cares. Deborah Serani, the author of Living with Depression, recommends saying something like “I am always here to help you” or “Just let me know when you need to talk.”
8. “Just go out! Why don’t you try sports?”
Yes, sports may help. But don’t forget that people who suffer from depression find it difficult (physically!) to get off the couch, not to speak of more active actions. Suggesting fun times, new lifestyles, or habits don’t help unless you are ready to accompany your friend with that.
And yet, don’t be too aggressive. Encourage a friend to take small steps every day: ask them to assist you or simply phone them to remind them what they have to do today.
9. “You are strong, you’ll handle it.”
These words of encouragement sound like an attempt to wash hands and escape from a depressed person. Yes, you sorta help but elect them as a strong one, sorta saying: “Do it yourself!” Your friend may feel that their life and problems mean nothing to you.
But they need help indeed. So, just offer it. Even mere listening can be reassuring enough to encourage your closed one.
10. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
Or: “Everyone has problems, you know.”
By saying that, you suggest that your depressed friend has a weak personality, which makes them feel miserable. Comparisons to others never work, you know. A more helpful response would be listening to their problems and saying that you understand them. Also, encourage your depressed friend to seek help from professionals.
Your depressed friend feels like the loneliest person in the world, and the last words of encouragement they want to hear from you are “Cheer up,” “Happiness is a choice,” or “Everything is gonna be fine.” Because it won’t be fine! Instead, learn about depression and its symptoms, encourage a friend to get treatment, provide unconditional support, never criticize or give the impression it’s their fault, and direct them to appropriate resources.
Words are a powerful weapon, so choose them wisely when talking to a depressed person. Remember that you can make a real difference for your friend.
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