talking to someone with depression

Seven Things to Avoid when Talking to Someone with Depression

It can be difficult to find the right words to say to someone who is clearly struggling. As a result, many well-meaning people say the wrong thing to their loved ones who are battling depression.

The important thing to note is that depression is a serious mental illness that could be life-threatening. Try to choose words that will offer support and encouragement to your depressed loved one.

There are certainly more, but here are seven common things to avoid saying to someone with depression:

  1. I have depression sometimes too

This one is quite common, so let’s get it out of the way first. As a society, we tend to misuse the word depression. When many people say they are depressed, they mean that they are feeling sad. This isn’t depression (it’s just feeling sad).

If you’re confused about the difference, try replacing the word depression with the phrase, “a major depressive disorder.”

“I have depression sometimes too” becomes “I have a major depressive disorder sometimes too.”

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But here’s the thing: the two sentences should be somewhat interchangeable. Someone who is feeling depressed is suffering from a major depressive disorder.

When people say they feel depressed sometimes, they’re probably trying to relate to the person with depression. But using the word to describe general sadness undermines what is a very serious health condition.

Instead, say something like this: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re struggling. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.”

  1. Try some chamomile tea and a warm bath

You may not have been tempted to say this exact sentence, but many people say something similar. A lack of understanding leads to the idea that something simple can fix depression.

If you know of something that has legitimately helped another person with a major depressive disorder, by all means, share. But the idea that simple home remedies can solve such an overwhelming problem is naïve and may be slightly insulting.

If you really want to help, let the person know you’re on their side.

Try saying something like this: “You’re not alone in this.”

  1. Stop feeling sorry for yourself

If you feel tempted to tell someone with depression to “suck it up” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself,” you may need a better understanding of depression. Depression is an illness. Someone who is depressed cannot control their negative feelings any more than someone with cancer can control tumor growth. You wouldn’t think of blaming a cancer patient for their cancer, so don’t blame someone with depression for their disorder.

The affected person needs your compassion to help them through a difficult time.

Here’s a more appropriate thing to say: “Can I give you a hug?”

  1. Things could be worse

This sentence is offensive to anyone who is going through anything, so it’s probably best not to speak it aloud. It’s true that things could be worse. When you’re feeling like your situation is bad, it may even help you to think about the many blessings you still have. But telling someone with depression that it could be worse is like telling them that their feelings are invalid. The implication is that they shouldn’t feel the way they’re feeling because it could be worse. This probably isn’t the message you want to send, so try communicating your point in a different way.

Try saying something along this line:

I’m not here to judge, but I’d love to be able to help see you through this. Please let me know what I can do.


  1. Put on a happy face

The idea that a smile or “faking it till you make it” is going to snap anyone out of depression is preposterous. Understand that someone with depression may have guilt about how their feelings are impacting the lives of those around them. Asking someone with depression to smile won’t do anything to help the depression. It only stands to make the person believe you want them to hide their true feelings.

Most people who say things like this have great intentions. Unfortunately, phrases like this one are counterproductive.

If you want to help, say something like this instead: “Depression is real and your feelings are valid.”


  1. Your mood is bringing me down

Unlike most of the things on this list, this one is not said with good intentions. However, it is often said out of frustration by a loved one who doesn’t know how to help.

Maybe they think the depressed person should be less selfish and think about how their depression is affecting others. Again, this is a sign of someone who doesn’t understand depression. The depressed person probably spends a great deal of time thinking about how their mood affects others. But they have an illness that they cannot help.

If you’re tempted to say something like this, know that it is hurtful. Instead, let the person know you’re on their side by saying something like this: “I can’t say I understand what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you.”

  1. Everyone has problems. That’s life.

This is another common thing to say that diminishes the person’s feelings.

“Look at what Jack has been through, and you don’t see him moping around.” It’s clear to see that saying something like this is hurtful. It implies that someone with depression is overreacting to their troubles. Again, depression is an illness and it cannot be so easily controlled. You cannot compare someone without depression to someone with depression. In fact, you shouldn’t compare how two very different people react to anything.

The best thing you can do is let the person with depression know you’ll be there throughout their journey. Try saying something like this: “You will get through this, and I’ll be by your side every step of the way.”


Most people who end up sticking their feet in their mouths begin with the best of intentions. If you’re not sure what to say to someone with depression, learn more about the condition. Once you understand that it is a treatable mental illness, it may be easier to find supportive words.

Overall, let the person know that you’re on their side. Although depression is difficult, there are ways to overcome the feeling of hopelessness. But don’t feel like it’s your responsibility to fix your friend’s depression. Professional counseling is a good place to start.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

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