“Major depressive disorder is a mood disorder that affects more than 15 million adults in the United States. Individuals with depression may not even report depressive signs and symptoms and instead present to their physician for somatic or physical symptoms such as headaches, abdominal pain, muscle pain, and fatigue,” according to Kristen Fuller, M.D.
Depression is a serious and difficult issue. Individuals suffering from it can try to explain how it’s like, but it doesn’t fully capture the experience. It’s hard to entirely have a grasp of how it feels like unless you go through it yourself.
Thus, many people tend to draw a blank when trying to communicate with their loved ones. We don’t all know what to say. And for those who manage to say something, it may not always be helpful. Your partner will rely on you as a support system. And as pure as intentions may be, some of the things we say can actually be hurtful.
“Depression often distorts thinking, making a once-confident person feel insecure, negative and self-loathing,” said Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist.
Here are some things to avoid saying to a partner suffering from depression.
“Cheer up, just think positive.”
Sadly, depression cannot be solved so easily. When going through a period or episode of depression, it’s hard to come up with many positive thoughts. The mind will fill itself with thoughts of gloom, misery, sadness, despair and the like. It often feels like these thoughts have a mind of their own and that the person does not have control over them. Thus, they cannot choose to only “cheer up.”
“People often don’t realize that depression isn’t just one thing. It can have different causes and presentations. Some people look sad, others are more irritable, some withdraw, and others seem restless.” —Lisa Moses, PsyD, licensed clinical psychologist.
Ask them if they want to tell you about it instead and have them describe what they’re feeling.
“Some people experienced worse than you, and they’re still happy.”
This is an absolute no-no. Never invalidate your partner’s feelings. If we were to follow this logic, then only the poorest, most worse-off person has the right to be sad. This is a negative way of thinking. Again, those with depression do not choose to be depressed. They cannot choose to not be depressed because they are privileged or supposedly have no problems to be sad over.
Support them by telling them that what they feel is valid. That it’s okay for them to feel this way and that you will be with them through it.
“I know how you feel, I’ve been depressed too.”
Unless you have genuinely gone through depression yourself, do not state these words. It trivializes what your partner is going through. It makes them feel like what they’re going through isn’t as difficult as they thought. Depression is not just little sadness. Sadness is something that everyone experiences. Depression is a complex disorder that many people suffer from — but probably not everybody.
Instead of this, tell them, “I may not know what you’re going through but I want to help.” Admit that you do not fully understand the experience but allow them to help you learn.
“Think about the kids/those who depend on you.”
Sometimes people will even offer to take care of the kids while their loved ones are going through an episode. Though this is well-meaning, it may not work out well for everyone. Those with depression may feel guilty when people remind them of the people who love them. They may then see themselves as being irresponsible or ungrateful for feeling depressed, which further pushes them down the void.
Alternatively, remind the person of their worth as an individual, not necessary having responsibilities to others, but to themselves.