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, 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 5 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."
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 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 that they are bringing this depression on themselves. If it was 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 to be 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.
Here is a personal video message from me to anyone who feels like the situation is hopeless right now. DON’T EVER GIVE UP.
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.