Last Monday, July 1 was No Shame Day, a campaign begun by The Siwe Project. The goal of this campaign is to work toward reducing the stigma of mental health by providing a platform to share stories on social media. I shared some of my own experiences with mental illness, as well as my thoughts on the unhelpful things I’ve heard from people, specifically about depression.
In light of that, I decided to share some of the most common [unhelpful] things I’ve heard from well-intentioned people.
1) “I get sad too, sometimes.”
First of all, let’s examine the difference between being sad and being depressed. Lots of people deal with sadness.
I’m sad when I run out of Nutella.
I’m sad when my favorite TV character gets killed off a show. (RIP Will Gardner)
Sadness is an emotion, whereas depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain. It goes beyond just being “sad”, but often not having the energy to complete even the simplest of tasks.
When I’m barely able to get out of bed to go to work, I’m depressed.
When I don’t leave my house for 4 days straight, I’m depressed.
So when you tell someone that you “get sad too”, you’re diminishing their experiences by attempting to equate your emotion with their mental illness.
2) “Look at all the ways God has blessed you!”
I understand this is meant to be a compliment, but it is really a back-handed way of making people feel guilty for what they’re going through; not to mention demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how depression works.
The thing about depression is that it doesn’t give a flying rat’s hoo-ha about your economic status, level of education, relationship or marital status, or anything else that is going on in your life. (Granted, there are situations involving these things that can trigger/make depression worse).
Depression can affect people from all backgrounds, and all walks of life.
3) Send an online listicle with a title such as : LOOK AT WHAT HAPPY PEOPLE DO.
4) “Have you tried (yoga/exercise/meditating/changing your diet/fish oil/vitamins/thing I read about on the internet)?”
Is this advice from:
– your own personal experience with depression?
– your expertise as a licensed therapist?
Please refer back to the answer to number 3.
5) “Some people have it worse than you!”
Suppose you’ve broken your arm and you’re in a lot of pain. You call out to the person closest to you:
“Hey! I’m in a lot of pain!”
Person: “Well you know, some people have broken BOTH their arms!”
Has this helped you in any way? Has your pain subsided knowing that there are other people going through worse pain than you? Again, this only makes people with depression feel unnecessary guilt for their illness.
If someone you know confides in you about dealing with depression, the most important thing to do is to listen to what kind of support THEY need. If you make a suggestion and they reject it, accept it and move on. Don’t make their rejection of your suggestion about YOU. It may just not be something that will be particularly helpful to them. For example: exercise may help alleviate symptoms of depression, but that’s difficult to do if you barely have the energy to walk to your mailbox. Listening and simply being present is the most helpful thing you can do.
Now here are some puppies.