Updated: Nov 13, 2019
These are three things that might immediately leap to mind when you hear someone lives with MDD--but for the love of God, don't say them. We've already heard them anyway.
If you've never experienced clinical depression, or don't know anybody who does, it can be a really difficult concept to wrap your head around. This is understandable--depression is invisible, the scars it leaves aren't readily apparent, and it seems like something one should be able to just move past or avoid.
Oh, if only.
Here are three things that you may be thinking when someone you know tells you they live with depression that you absolutely should refrain from uttering aloud--and what to say instead if you're genuinely curious to find out more about the person you're trying to support or get to know better.
"YOU DON'T SEEM SAD."
The phrase "I'm so depressed" tends to get thrown around willy-nilly. That's fine--people have been saying it forever, and there's nothing offensive or inherently wrong with doing so. But what people often mean when they say it is, "I'm sad," or, "I'm upset."
Depression isn't sadness. People with it are more susceptible to sadness and other negative feelings, and they tend to feel them more deeply, than your average person. But many of us are perfectly satisfied with our lives and aren't currently upset over anything in particular.
When you think of a depressed person, it's easy to picture someone curled up on their couch with a gallon of ice cream sobbing over chick flicks. But most of the time, we just don't look like that, because 1. many of us live the same kind of fulfilling lives that anyone else might, and 2. many depressed people go out of their way not to draw attention to their issues.
What to say instead: This depends on how it comes up. If they're telling you because they need help, "What can I do?" is the obvious choice. But if it simply comes up during the course of conversation, it's perfectly fine to admit, "I always thought 'depressed' meant 'sad.' So what exactly is clinical depression?"
"JUST GET OVER IT."
This one is simple. If we could just "get over it" there would be no clinical depression and anxiety. Random panic attacks wouldn't be a thing. Depressive episodes where we can't seem to find it in us to get out of bed, let alone get through the day, wouldn't happen. Nobody wants to live with depression.
It's a chemical imbalance in the brain over which we have zero control. Medication helps--sometimes to a miraculous extent--but there is no medication on the market that can totally wipe out the effects of MDD because, like many disorders, it manifests differently in everybody.
Some do get over it--clinical depression has been known to work itself out in some people. But we can't do it at will.
What to say instead: "Hey, want to go [insert your favorite activity to enjoy together here]?" Distraction and just knowing someone cares is extremely effective in elevating a dismal mood. Or, "Wanna talk?" is great for if you can't get out because life.
But the key phrase here is want to--if they don't, don't attempt to force or convince them. While wallowing in a depressive episode isn't healthy, sometimes, we just need to be left alone for a short while and let it pass.
"IT'S ALL IN YOUR HEAD."
I read a quote somewhere once (I can't find it now, so I don't remember who said it), that was so simple and to-the-point: "Of course it's all in our heads; that's where our brains are!"
Depression lives in our brains, and so yes, technically it is "all in our heads." But that doesn't mean we're making it up or imagining it. There's a reason #DepressionIsReal is a thing on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
What to say instead: Nothing. There's no convincing someone with MDD that they don't really have it. In fact, that can be dangerous. Just don't on this one.
Bottom line: in a pinch, a kind attitude and just letting someone who's going through some things know you're there for them is often enough. Sometimes, nothing really needs to be said. But definitely not these things. Never these things.
Here's a cute kitten.
I do gots hugs, want some? Come see me!