What NOT to Say to Someone Living with Depression
Updated: Nov 23
Words are powerful. We've all heard that said at one time or another. For someone struggling with depression, even words said out of love and concern, can be processed as something very negative and hurtful. Depression is often a very lonely and isolating experience, even if you’re in a room full of people…at a party...celebrating your birthday. That’s what happened to me one year. I was at a party, thrown in my honor, to celebrate my birthday, and I felt completely alone. I didn’t know why, but I just couldn’t shake it. I also couldn’t hide it, even though I tried. A good friend noticed and pretty much told me to “Snap out of it. Everyone is here for you!" I knew this person meant well, but I felt horrible, and I didn’t know what to say, because I honestly didn’t know how to ‘snap out of it’, although I really did want to. This was before I knew that what I had was depression. It was before I walked away from God.
Because people living with depression can have many triggers, and because you may not know any of them, it can be tough to know what to say. You may think you should just spend less time with them, believing that’s the best way to keep from saying the wrong thing. I mean, no one wants to say something that triggers a person to spiral into a depressive episode. Or maybe because their mood actually brings you down, you think it’s best if you just fade into the background of their life for a while. My advice...don't avoid them. They need you, even if they don't realize it. The best thing you can do for them is to continue to be in their life and allow them to talk about their feelings. But, if a friend or family member seems completely out of reach, try to remember that they may not want any contact for a while as they try to sort out what’s going on in their head. So, never stop praying for them and make it a point to be there when they’re ready to talk.
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people-" 1Timothy 2:1
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Colossians 4:2
The words said to me at my party, triggered me and for a few days I stayed in my bedroom fighting off horrible thoughts, wondering what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t fix it. That had become my normal routine when certain things were said to me.
251-310 million people worldwide suffer from depression and it’s one of the leading cuases of disability in the world. The Global Health Data Exchange
As Christians, we sometimes believe that if you have a “real” relationship with Christ, you won’t struggle with depression. But the Bible shows that just isn’t true. Some of the most well known characters, who had conversations with God like a friend, experienced very low moments in their lives where they didn't want to go on. There's David (Psalm 42:11), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Job (Job 3:11), just to name a few.
I believe in healing through Christ, which I claim every day. But I also know how the enemy (Satan) works. He’s the tempter. Anyone who receives victory over anything will be tempted by the devil to return to that thing, whatever it is, even though it was tearing them apart internally. So, for example, with me, when I don’t receive something I was earnestly praying for, Satan begins to fill my head with his old thoughts of, “Everyone’s against me; I’m invisible; God hates me”. The difference now is that I make sure to spend time with God every day, and the more time I spend with Him, the more I’m able to recognize His voice, and weed out the voice of the enemy. I still have triggers, which the enemy knows about, so I watch out for them and pray so I don’t enter into those tempting thoughts and spend days there tearing myself down. I make a conscious effort to remember, and say out loud, God's promises to bring me out.
“Keep actively watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Matthew 26:41 AMP
“And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.” Romans 8:28 AMP
Because it can be hard to know what to say, or not say, here are 8 things you should NOT say to someone living with depression. Now, I’m not a mental health professional, but I am someone who’s struggled with depression since childhood, and I’ve learned my triggers. So, I’ve added my thoughts and feelings when these things were said to me. I believe that if you have somewhat of an understanding of how they may be processing your words, you'll be able to pick up on their triggers. This will most likely strengthen your relationship because it should relieve some tension you may have around talking to them.
1. “You'll feel better eventually.”
Right now, I don't believe I can ever “feel better”.
(Hearing this may feel like more of a brush off than a statement to actually ponder.)
2. "Just cheer up!"
It’s obviously simple, so something's wrong with me for not being able to do it.
3. "What's wrong with you?"
I really don’t know and I want badly to find out so it can be fixed…OR…I don’t believe anything is “wrong” and my actions are justified; everyone else has the problem.
4. "You're too sensitive."
Feeling guilty for ‘being’ what is apparently a negative thing, i.e., sensitive.
5. "It's all in your head."
That can’t be possible, can it? It all seems so real.
6. “Don’t worry, I’ve been there before and it will get better soon."
Really? I doubt that. You’re just saying that in order to change the subject because you don't know what to say, and you don’t really believe it yourself.
7. “Just snap out of it!"
If I could, I would! I wish I could. I’ve tried and it isn’t working! I’m sorry! Help me!
8. “You should be thankful you’re alive.”
But I’m not, and there are many times I wish I weren’t and I feel so guilty about that.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but I believe it’s a good start. And you may slip and say one of these, or something else that’s triggering, but give yourself some grace. You know your intentions are to help and not to harm. Try to keep in mind that depression is a disease that affects mood, behavior and other mental processes. Your interaction with them may sometimes take a little more energy and patience, but hang in there because you'll both appreciate the extra effort in the end.
I really hope this has been helpful. Drop a comment below if you have any other ‘things to avoid saying’ suggestions, or experience with saying the “wrong”, thing and how it turned out. I’d love to hear it.
Next time, we’ll go over some great things you SHOULD say to someone you know suffering from depression.
Until then, have a great day and stay encouraged in the Lord! He loves you beyond anything you could every imagine!
If you're struggling with depression, or know someone who is, and are looking for someone who can relate, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ to connect with a trained counselor.
To love and victory in Christ,