When you’re talking to your depressed friends, sometimes things get lost in translation. This helpful guide shows you what you’re really saying to them.
“What’s making you sad? You have so many reasons to be grateful.”
“Wouldn’t this be a whole lot easier to deal with if we just got to the root of the issue? You know, I was depressed once for a whole week. Turns out I was just really mad at my boss! If you think about it, I’m sure you’ll discover you can be happy too. Why don’t you try thinking about it and focusing on the positive?”
What it sounds like to us: “You see that guy in a wheelchair? What’s making him sit? He has so many reasons to get up and explore the world.”
Oh, you’re saying I can stop being depressed if I just remember that I shouldn’t be sad? HOLY SHIT, WHY HAVE NONE OF US THOUGHT OF THAT?
Believe me, if the issue were that simple, we would have done it a long time ago. We want to be happy. The issue isn’t that we choose not to; the issue is that we can’t.
Depression is not sadness. It’s more like emotional paralysis. It kills our ability to feel happiness, hope, and accomplishment. There are varying degrees of it, but that’s what it really is: a medical condition that affects brain chemicals. We don’t choose our brain chemistry any more than a disabled person chooses not to stand.
“Everyone gets depressed from time to time.”
“Don’t worry, I totally get what you’re going through. And so does everyone else on earth. In fact, what you’re going through is totally normal. You need to realize that this is basically a rite of passage, it’s a phase that everyone goes through. There’s no need to complain about it—you’ll get back to your regular life soon enough.”
What it sounds like to us: “My brother ate the last muffin this morning, so I can totally relate to you losing your grandmother to cancer. Everyone loses things from time to time.”
Depression is hard. It can make simple things like taking a shower, getting out of bed in the morning, or spending time with friends a monumental and almost impossible task. And there are times when it doesn’t let up for weeks, or even months. It’s not even close to a breakup or a bad day at work.
I’m not saying don’t try to relate. Trying to relate is great. Claiming that I’ve been dealt the same hand as every other human is bad because it implies that I’m inferior to everyone else who seems to be dealing with it just fine. Claiming that everyone already understands what I’m going through is simply not true.
“Maybe you wouldn’t be depressed all the time if you didn’t listen to such depressing music.”
“It’s simple cause and effect, really. Your depression is coming from somewhere, and you’re constantly filling your mind with The Cure. It doesn’t take a doctor to tell that that’s not helping. You should cut it out.”
What it sounds like to us: “Maybe this freezer wouldn’t be cold all the time if you didn’t put frozen things in it.”
This is reverse causation at its finest. Depressing music actually makes me happy. Why? Because it reminds me that I’m not alone. When you’re depressed, everyone else looks happier by comparison. Being out in a world full of people who are enjoying themselves when I can barely pick myself up off of the floor just makes me feel worse.
Imagine a kid is having trouble learning how to ride his bike. He’s fallen down countless times and is bloodied, beat up, and bruised. Now imagine if the parent said, “I know what will cheer you up! I’m going to show you pictures of all of the other kids your age who aren’t struggling with riding a bike, who never fall down and are able to ride effortlessly!”
That’s depressing. That’s me listening to happy music when I’m depressed. That’s why depressing music will always be a safe harbor for me.
“Have you tried eating more vegetables or exercising more?”
“Diet and exercise can have a big impact on mood—I read something about endorphins in a science article once. If you’re having trouble with your mood, it must be because of that thing I read about. You obviously have not read the same article on endorphins that I read.”
What it sounds like to us: “You’re having trouble driving that screw into the wall? Have you tried using a screwdriver?”
Improving diet and exercise is the most basic advice you can give to someone who’s feeling a little down. Those of us with a major mood disorder probably found that same advice when we first started to notice a problem, and it’s often the first thing we try. In my case, diet and exercise did not make a dent in my depression.
I’m not saying that diet and exercise are not important or necessary to a depressed person. I believe they’re vitally important, and every depressed person should be mindful of them. I can definitely feel a difference when I let one or both of these start slipping. But the problem is so much bigger than the impact diet and exercise have on non-depressed people.
“Medication is the easy way out.”
“I’ve heard that most people that go to psychiatrists don’t even want to solve their problems—they just want magic pills that will make them go away. With all of the information out there on mental disorders, most people just diagnose themselves and then go and demand medicine. You’re better than that. You can solve this without medical help.”
What it sounds like to us: “If you want to live in a house, you should build it yourself without any help. Hiring someone to build it is the easy way out.”
Depression is not a disagreement with a friend or tense work situation. Fixing problems with brain chemistry is way more complicated than simply solving problems you encounter in everyday life. While fixing these problems on your own is possible and even a good idea for some, it’s not feasible for many.
If you’ve ever taken medicine to deal with cold symptoms, you should know that there are things you can do to prevent getting sick in the first place, such as boiling all of your food and never leaving your house. Blaming you for not taking these precautions doesn’t make you any better, though. And if you’re already sick, it’s actually more irresponsible to lay in bed all day when medicine could enable you to do something productive. If there’s something that will let me live a normal life and, yes, more effectively solve my own problems, I’m going to take it.
“Whatever you do, don’t go on medicine. That stuff is dangerous and doesn’t work.”
“I’ve heard about some cases where antidepressants made people worse, and some medications have bad side effects that can make your life harder. I can’t imagine living with something like that. Do you really want to deal with all of those risks?”
What it sounds like to us: “I’m sorry you have cancer, but don’t do chemotherapy or radiation treatment. They’ll make you sick and aren’t 100% effective.”
One time, I took cold medicine and got really tired afterward. But you know what? I still felt better than I did before I took the cold medicine.
Yes, medication can make your life worse and carries with it some risks. But guess what? So does depression. And most of the time, the downsides and risks of depression are a lot worse than those of medication.
Treatment success rates for mental illness are actually higher than those of heart disease and breast cancer, but we don’t warn those people not to treat their conditions. It’s true that medicine doesn’t work well for everybody, but that doesn’t mean it works for nobody.
“I don’t need this kind of negativity in my life.”
“I read an article on eliminating toxic people in my life, and it seems like you’re always focusing on negative things. You’re bringing me down with your negativity. Until you can start focusing on the positive, I don’t need you in my life.”
What it sounds like to us: “Fuck you.”
Guess what? We already know we’re tough to be around! We don’t like it either! We don’t like feeling like a burden on everyone around us! If we could change it, we would—but we can’t.
If you need a break from us, that’s fine and you’re entitled to it. Just don’t throw it back in our faces like we’re doing this to you on purpose. If you feel a need to remind us that our medical condition is hard for you to deal with, we don’t need that kind of negativity in our lives.