Let me just state…
People who say these things are not bad people.
This is not some angry post or a “don’t treat me like that” post to show how bad and stupid you are when you say this to a depressed person.
There are too many of those and they only create more separation between the people trying to help and the person with depression.
You should see this post more like a guide to bridge the gap of misunderstanding.
That’s why, for every of the following 5 things people say I will share:
What you think you’re saying
What a depressed person thinks
And what you can say instead
Bridging the gap of misunderstanding between people with depression and the people trying to help them
Let’s go over these 5 things people often say, what this means to someone with depression and what you can say instead to help the other get better.
#1 “And… Do you feel a little better now?”
People often say this after you had a 15 minute conversation with them about what you are going through after they asked you what was wrong.
What you think: “Whoa, (s)he shared some heavy stuff right there, I bet (s)he must feel relieved now. I’m glad I was able to let her tell me that and show her a more positive perspective. (S)he just needed someone to vent to.
What we think: “No, it’s not that simple… I didn’t even get to explain 1/10th of the pain I am in. I was surprised you asked me up to the point that I HAD to share something of my depression but the fact that you immediately assume this improved my depression shows how little you understand about the gravity and complexity of it. This gap in understanding and connection makes my heart cry and reinforces the idea that I am indeed completely alone in this and no one understands me.”
What you can say instead: “I can only imagine what you are going through. I hope this talk lets you know that we can do this more often. I know I’ll need to talk a lot more with you to begin to understand what you are going through. But I want to know I care about you. Let’s schedule a time to meet again and make this a regular thing, OK?”
#2 “Just let me know if I can do anything for you, OK?”
Or another very similar one: “Just call me if you need anything OK?”
What you think: “I care about him/her, I want him/her to know that I am available if (s)he needs anything.
What we think: “I don’t deserve anyone’s attention. I can certainly not call him/her up and ask for her help. I mean, (s)he has important things to do.. I need to figure this out on my own. I can’t keep leaning on other people to take care of me. I’m such a burden to everyone.
What you can say instead: “I understand you are hurting and you feel like you are a burden to me. I won’t try to convince you but I still want you to know that I don’t feel that way. I care about you and I want to make time for you and understand what you are going through. I understand it’s hard for you to say what you need so why don’t I suggest a couple of activities and we schedule these and make it a regular thing?”
An unhealthy amount of guilt and shame prevents us from reaching out for help. Why? Because we absolutely believe we don’t deserve help or attention. Leaving it up to a depressed person to reach out for help is not a smart move. It’s best to suggest meet-ups, check-ins and neighbourhood walks and follow through on those. Taking a rain-check on something small like the neighbourhood walk can be devastating for someone with depression. Try to honor your appointments with us.
#3 “I can’t handle all this negativity”
What you think: “(S)he has to understand that this is difficult for me too! We are all hurting. I don’t feel strong enough at this moment and I need some help too so (s)he needs to understand that I can’t handle her/his negativity all the time!”
What we think: “(S)he’s right. You see? I am such a burden to the people close to me. I only make things worse. I don’t want them to feel bad also. I am a lost cause but if (s)he can still be happy than (s)he should be. (S)he’s right to stay away from me.”
What you can say instead: “Look, I notice that this whole situation is very heavy for me as well. And I want to help you and be here for you. To listen to you and imagine the pain you’re going through, I need to take good care of myself. That’s why I can’t spend a lot of time with you right now, because I need to fill up my own cup right now. But I want you to know that I care about you and I’ll be back soon.”
If you want to care for someone with depression you need to first take care of yourself like you have never before. Make sure you explain this to the person who is depressed. Make sure you take care of your own positivity, go out with friends, have fun and when you step into the room to be with that depressed person make sure you are ready for it. Bring loads of energy to share, don’t go in empty-handed. This doesn’t mean you need to be a bubble of positivity, but you need a lot of energy to sit and listen and be quiet. You just can’t take care of someone if you are completely drained yourself. Saying that someone is too much of a burden for you will reinforce the belief that we are not good enough. It will only confirm our thoughts that “indeed, we should go away from this life because we are now not only hurting ourselves but also hurting the people around us.”
#4 “Don’t keep dwelling on the negative”
What you think: “It’s important to focus on the positive. If (s)he could only see that… Everything can be overcome if you just focus on the positive side of things and look for solutions.
What we think: (S)he’s right. I shouldn’t be dwelling so much on the negative. But I’ve tried that already… I have done everything that someone would typically do to try to focus on good things. God knows I have tried to enjoy sunrises, sunsets, the wind even rain. I’ve walked countless times in nature but… it just doesn’t go away. What works for others doesn’t work for me. There must be something fundamentally wrong inside of me that makes me such a negative person. I am just not made for this world. This is too heavy for me.”
What you can say instead: “I know that typical advice doesn’t work for you to make you feel better today. But I want to assure you that I care about you and I want to keep inviting you to do those “stupid” things that people tell you. Because you may not feel it right now, but it is still better for you to get out of bed and take that walk in the park then if you don’t do that. And I understand how tough it must be to have to keep forcing yourself to do those things that seemingly don’t work so I want you to know I want to help you with that. Let’s schedule a daily afternoon walk when I get back from work, OK?”
#5 “How can you be depressed? Look at how good you have it!”
Or a similar phrase like “There are so many people worse off than you and they are not depressed!”
What you think: “I don’t want him/her to feel so bad. It hurts to see him/her hurt. If (s)he could only see the good things in her/his life! (S)he would not be so depressed.”
What we think: “It’s so true… Objectively, I have a really good life. I know this. And I’ve tried counting my blessings… But it just seems impossible for me to feel good. There must be something fundamentally broken inside me that makes me such a negative person. You see, I am just not made for this world. I am too weak. Even with the best life possible, I couldn’t be happy. I’m such an ungrateful person. Look at me with my smartphone and my comfortable bed while there are people struggling to get enough water to keep themselves from dehydrating. I don’t deserve any help.”
What you can say instead: “Hey, it hurts me to see you in such pain even though you seem to have all the typical things in life to be content. I understand this has nothing to do with the people, opportunities or possessions you have in life. It’s clear to me now, that you are dealing with something much bigger than just feeling sad. I know these outer things don’t keep you happy. Let’s take this seriously and try to help you find what might be broken inside you. Let’s get in touch with a doctor and/or a psychologist to get started.
Separation and misunderstanding between the depressed and the person trying to help is completely contrary to what everyone wants.
With this list I wanted to show the agonising disconnect that’s created when two people don’t understand each other.
Feeling misunderstood and belittled is horrible.
More misunderstanding makes the depression worse.
It can even cost someone’s life.
Because a depressed person is already feeling worthless…
So if we blame him or her even more for being depressed it only shows the depressed person that “indeed, they are alone in this and no one understands them”.
To avoid this, I want to explain why people say these things, that they say them with good intentions but they are misunderstood because they are speaking from a different reality than the depressed.
If we understand this difference, we can bridge the gap and help each other out.