5 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With Depression or Anxiety

things-you-should-never-say-to-someone-with-depression

September 15, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Saba Afzal, M.D.
Yeraz N Markarian, PhD
Arunesh K. Mishra, M.D.

It can be difficult knowing what to say to a loved one who’s been diagnosed with depression or anxiety. While you may have good intentions, sometimes the things we say can inadvertently intensify the negative feelings someone else is experiencing. As such, it’s important to know how to effectively support the people in our lives who struggle with their mental health.

If a loved one opens up to you about their mental health, there are five things to avoid saying—and what to say instead.

“It could always be worse/Other people have it worse”

“This can make the person feel guilty for being depressed or anxious, when it is not their fault,” says Saba Afzal, M.D., Residency Program director, Ocean Medical Center Department of Psychiatry. “Also, this dismissal of their feelings may make them feel like they shouldn’t open up to anyone again.” Instead: “I’m so sorry this is happening. How can I support you?”

“I know/understand how you feel. I was so depressed when [something trivial].”

You don’t have to necessarily understand what someone is going through to be there for them. In order to empathize with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it and not how you imagine their experience to be. Instead: “I’m really sorry you’re going through this. I’m here for you whenever you need me.”

“Everything will be OK. Think happy thoughts.”

“Don’t try to overload the person with positivity,” says Yeraz Markerian, Ph.D., director of psychology at Hackensack University Medical Center. “This could make them think they don’t have a right to feel unhappy. Everyone goes through moments of unhappiness, and some of the time, this is normal. It’s much better to empathize with them and let them know the way they feel matters to you.” Instead try: “I want to be here for you. Do you want to tell me more?”

“Have you tried meditating/yoga/journaling?”

While these wellness practices may be helpful to some people, they might not work for everyone. Unsolicited advice isn’t always beneficial if you are not a trained mental health professional. Instead: “It’s hard but I believe in you. I am here with you. What can I do to help you?”

“Why aren’t you in therapy/on medication?”

“Seeking out professional help is a decision that someone should make on their own,” says Arunesh Mishra, M.D., a psychiatrist based in Perth Amboy. “Being asked a question like this may make the person experiencing depression or anxiety feel shame, or as if they are being judged, for not doing so.” A better way to approach this would be letting the person know that you are concerned about them. If they say they are ready to seek out professional help, then you can help them find a good mental health professional. Instead: “I’ve noticed you seem very anxious/sad lately. I’m concerned about you.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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