Depression is an illness and comes in many forms. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), over 16 million adults in the United States suffered from at least one major depressive episode in 2015.
I believe this number to be low given the stigma attached to seeking help for mental disorders, especially for men. There are also people who do not seek treatment due to not having health insurance and even some who try to self-treat. Depression often co-exists with other mental illnesses including anxiety and can be brought on by stress-related events.
The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting an estimated 300 million people of all ages.
While depression can range from mild to severe and differ from person to person, it is not just a feeling. You can’t will it away.
Yet, many people who have not suffered from this crippling disease do not understand what it is like. Although you are trying to help and have the best of intentions, certain things you say may make things worse.
What not to say or do when helping someone with depression:
1. Try to “one-up” them. Telling a person with depression they have not had it as bad as you have accomplishes nothing. It only makes the depressed person feel worse. It makes them feel like their problems aren’t legitimate and nothing could be further from the truth. You don’t get to decide whether their feelings are legitimate or not.
2. Bring religion into the conversation. Unless you are 100% certain the person you are speaking with is religious, don’t bring it up. Telling someone who is not religious to give all your problems to God is like telling an atheist he/she is going to hell. It doesn’t mean anything to that person. It also doesn’t help solve their problems.
3. Tell them to focus on the positive. Unfortunately, people who have depression are unable to do this. When you suffer from this disease, the negative in life is at the forefront of everything we do and think about. During a depression, the negatives far outweigh the positives. Depression is not a way of thinking. It is an illness based on many factors. Per Harvard Health Publications, brain chemistry, nerve connections, nerve cell growth and the functioning of nerve circuits all play a part in a person’s depression.
4. Ignore them. If a friend or a family member confides in you about their depression, it is a cry for help. For a lot of people, it is very difficult to reach out and tell people about their feelings. One of the results of depression is isolation. They are interrelated for those who suffer. Depression can cause isolation and isolation can cause depression. It is a vicious cycle. Don’t ignore them as this can cause them to feel even more isolated and unsupported. Instead, contact them as often as possible (as long as they are open to it) and make sure they know you are there for them.
These suggestions may not apply to each person as depression is different for everyone who experiences it.
Yet, the one thing you can do is listen. Allow that person to tell their story. Allow them to vent, to cry, to let it out. Be there for them and let them know you are a person they can rely on.
Depression is not something that is cured overnight. It takes time to get better and for some, it will last their lifetime.