5 Things to Never Say to Someone Who's Depressed

Starting the Conversation about Depression

I've always wanted my radio show and TheHopeLine to be a place where people felt comfortable talking about the tough stuff. A place where people could open up about the things they have been trying to hide. I know that once you start telling your story, you are on a path to healing. To be a safe place, it is often important to know what NOT to say about certain struggles. So today I address five things not to say to someone who's depressed.

Until we get rid of the unacceptable stigma of mental illness, it's going to be very hard for people to come forward for care.

Mental illness, including depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc., can be hard to discuss. Unfortunately, a stigma surrounding mental illness keeps people from opening up. They don't want to be seen as weak or fall into any stereotypes surrounding mental illness. According to the Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, M.D., fewer than half of the people who have a mental illness get the care they need. He said, "Until we get rid of the unacceptable stigma of mental illness, it's going to be very hard for people to come forward for care."

Understanding Depression

Our partner organization, Centerstone, describes depression this way. "Depression is more than a day of feeling low. It is a long-lasting, often recurring illness as real and disabling as heart disease or arthritis. People with depression feel increasingly isolated from family and friends. One of the frustrating parts of dealing with depression is that there are no outward signs or conclusive testing of the illness. There is no rash or fever. There isn’t a blood test to diagnose. So, people with depression are often treated as if they are making it up or should just be able to snap out of it. If you're wondering "Why do I feel so lost and hopeless?", you might be battling depression."

Depression Affects Many People

Yet depression is very common, affecting about 10 percent of the U.S. population (almost 20 million people) every year. One in four women and one in ten men will experience a depressive episode in their lifetime. In our Guest Blog by Centerstone, Are you Depressed? we address how you can know if you or someone you care about has depression. We also have a quick checklist about depression symptoms.

You can Be a Safe Place to Talk

As we open up this discussion, I want to address how to support someone who may be struggling with this illness. There are some very hurtful things that well-meaning people often say.

5 things to AVOID saying


1. What do you have to be depressed about?

There are people who have it much worse than you. The depressed person already knows this and doesn't need it pointed out to them. Often the most frustrating part of depression is that they can't explain why they feel like they do. Imagine what it must feel like to have a really good life and not be able to enjoy it. By asking them this question, you will make them feel even worse for seemingly not being grateful for what they have.

2. Happiness is a choice. You just need to change your mindset and focus on the positive.

When you say this to someone struggling with depression, you are essentially telling them that they are CHOOSING to be negative and sad and that they are bringing this depression on themselves. If it were as simple as choosing to be happy, don't you think they would?

3. You don't need medication.

Unless you are a doctor, DO NOT give clinical or medical advice. Leave that to the professionals. Rather encourage someone facing depression to talk it over with their doctor.

4. You're depressed again?

Trust me, they are scared of falling into depression again. For you to sound annoyed does not help.

5. Are you reading your Bible enough? Are you praying enough?

To someone who is depressed, asking them this question feels as if you are saying, "If you just trusted God more or had more faith, you wouldn't be depressed" somehow suggesting it is their fault God hasn't healed them. However, none of us can DO ENOUGH on our own to get God to act how we think He should. Thankfully, God's love and provision are not based on our performance. I trust completely that God's ways are wiser than ours and that He loves us like crazy. And while God removes some struggles immediately, He allows us to walk through others. And even though I might not understand, I believe He has a purpose in all things.

So, while healing is not based on our performance of Bible reading and prayer, these things can bring comfort. I would suggest saying something like this instead, I know you are trusting God, and I will pray that He brings you a peace that only He can bring. And, if you're interested, I can share some Bible verses to read when feeling hopeless. TheHopeLine has put together this list of Bible verses for you to share.

So now you know what NOT to say, but what can you do for someone struggling with depression?

Let them know that:

  • They are NOT alone.
  • You are NOT leaving.
  • Their struggle is real and you know that.
  • You are available to listen.
  • You are praying for them.

So tell me do you struggle with depression? What is it like for you?  Did someone hurt you during a depressed season in your life? What is the most helpful thing someone could do for you? Do you have encouragement and advice for others who are struggling?

Let's get the conversation started - it's safe here!

If you or a friend need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, for free confidential, 24/7 help. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. For additional help, please visit the suicide prevention resource page.

Dawson McAllister
Dawson McAllister, also known as America's youth pastor, was an author, radio host, speaker, and founder of TheHopeLine. McAllister attended Bethel College in Minnesota for undergraduate work where he graduated in 1968, began graduate studies at Talbot School of Theology in California, and received an honorary doctorate from Biola University.
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8 comments on “5 Things to Never Say to Someone Who's Depressed”

  1. I feel sad most of the time but I'm more worried for my friend who has COVID and he's depressed so much more than me, Even the songs he listen to are sad so I needed the advice.

  2. in my opinion one of the worst things you can say is I know what your going through or I understand cause you dont. many people seem to get defensive. cause in there mind they feel like you may sorta understand but unless you have lived the life they have lived you aint truly going to understand. I know this is going to sound stupid but as a adult 30 years of age who has struggled with depression and hospitalisations since i was in kindergarden. i am very well aware that i have major depression and it gets harder and harder to ask for help cause quite frankly they get burned out. nobody likes a debbie downer and i dont know how i make it thru everyday without offing myself. but I do. and i know there are so many of us who feel so alone. just keep fighting. hold on to whatever you can to stay afloat. every single one of us is worth more than anyone could ever imagine

  3. It is a difficult stage of life. Excited to see kids succeed, but also missing them. If you are having suicidal thoughts, you may also be suffering from clinical depression. I want to encourage you to seek help. You could start by chatting with one of our HopeCoaches. It is a safe private online chat. https://www.thehopeline.com/chat-now/ They can also connect you with other resources. Thanks for speaking up and reaching out.

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