Many people in the U.S. and beyond struggle with depression. It can be a terribly challenging condition to deal with because there are often no outward signs. When someone is on crutches or in a wheelchair, you can see that quite plainly. But when someone is suffering from depression, anxiety, autism, Asperger's, colitis, heart disease or any other internal condition, people don't always recognize that there's something going on.
I've struggled with depression for many years. It's an ugly condition that I wish I didn't have, but wishing doesn't make it go away. Neither does meditating, exercising or praying. I do all of those things, but deep down, my depression isn't a matter of my circumstances or lifestyle choices, but a true medical condition that I can't just get under control at will.
Many well-meaning people are quick to give advice, but they don't understand what's really going on. Although they mean well, their advice (often not asked for) does little to help.
Here are the eight things you don't need to say:
1. Snap out of it. If only it were that easy. To say this somehow implies that I like curling up in a ball on the couch suffering. If I could just stop being depressed, I would. It's not a conscious choice to be depressed; there's no such thing as snapping out of it.
2. You just need to take care of yourself. I eat a very healthy diet, exercise regularly, get adequate sleep, and don't abuse alcohol or other substances. I'd say I take excellent care of myself. Depression is not a symptom of self-neglect or abuse. While taking care of yourself is vitally important, it is not a cure for depression.
3. You should just pray about it. I believe in the power of prayer; I really do. I go to church regularly and find great support and encouragement from my church family; but praying doesn't make depression go away any more than praying to get taller will make me look like Michael Jordan.
4. Are you off your meds? Please don't assume that everyone who suffers from depression takes medication; and please don't assume that if someone is having a bout of depression that they are "off their meds." Medication is a viable choice for many people; but it's not for everyone. The choice to medicate, or not, is a very personal thing. I certainly wouldn't walk up to any of my friends and ask them if they are on their birth control.
5. Maybe you should see someone? I know that the someone they are referring to is a psychiatrist, and again, I understand that for many people that's a viable option. But just like the issue of medication, seeing a medical professional of any kind for any reason is a personal thing. By the way, I know plenty of people who don't suffer from depression that regularly see a therapist. If one of my coworkers has an off day and freaks out in a meeting, I don't automatically suggest that they "see someone."
6. I know how you feel. Even if you have battled depression yourself, you can't possibly know how I feel. Everyone is different. We process information in different ways and we experience things differently. Depression, just like any other condition, affects people differently, so your depression may look completely different than mine.
7. But you look so good. Lots of people I know with depression look fine. We aren't walking around sobbing uncontrollably; we're not unkempt, walking around without having showered for days, looking remarkably similar to Jack Nicholson in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Depression doesn't have a signature look.
8. Cheer up, it'll get better. I know lots of people with depression who are still optimists. I know it might be hard to imagine, but I actually believe that the best is yet to come. I have faith in my fledgling businesses, I believe that one day I may find love, and I keep working hard to reach my goals; but that doesn't mean that depression won't still rear its ugly head. Please don't assume that because I'm depressed I'm hopeless or helpless.
So now that I've told you what not to say, here are three things that you can say that are actually helpful and supportive.
1. Take your time. Sometimes I don't want to be pushed when I'm feeling blue. The anecdote to a battle with depression is not a night out on the town. While your heart might be in the right place by pushing someone to get out, it might be too much for them.
2. I'm here for you. But only say that if you really are. It's nice to know that when I'm feeling down I have a few people that I can call and talk to.
3. What can I do for you? I like when people are sincere with this question. Sometimes what they can do is just give me some space, sometimes they can come over and keep me company, and it's almost always appreciated when people come bearing ice cream! The point is, I appreciate when people sincerely make an effort to be there for me, and when they care enough to do it in a way that is helpful to me.
If you suffer from depression, know that you are not alone. There are lots of resources out there to help you, so don't let fear or embarrassment keep you from reaching out.
To all those struggling I wish you peace. To all those caring and helping, don't give up on us.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.