Even if you don't realize it, chances are you know someone with depression. One in five teens will experience depression at some point, which means it probably affects someone in your circle right now. It also means if you're feeling depressed, you're definitely not alone.
Of course, when a friend is going through a hard time, you want to help. But it's important to choose your words wisely so your friend knows you really understand what she's going through. Here are some well-meaning phrases that can actually do more harm than good - and what you can say instead.
1. "Cheer up!"
Depression isn't the same as a bad mood. "When people have depression, they're dealing with a brain-based medical condition," says Ashwini Nadkarni, MD, a psychiatrist at Brigham & Women's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. "Just as you can't snap a person out of their asthma, you can't snap someone out of their depression." Instead, let her know you're always willing to lend an ear-and really listen when she's ready to talk.
2. "You don't need a therapist or pills. You just need [sunshine, yoga, coffee]!"
No one wants to see their bestie upset, so your natural impulse may be to find a quick fix. But steer clear of suggestions that trivialize what she's going through or make her feel bad about seeking treatment. (You wouldn't tell someone with strep throat they don't need meds, right?) "Keep in mind that compassion and concern are best expressed through questions rather than answers," Dr. Nadkarni says. "You don't have to be her doctor." If you feel like you need to do something, you can offer to help her research local doctors-but seriously, don't underestimate the value of just listening and asking questions so she knows you care.
3. "So many people have it worse than you."
"Saying something like that can worsen feelings of guilt," Dr. Nadkarni says, and guilt already plays a big role in depression. It isn't about being ungrateful or forgetting to look on the bright side. Depression can affect literally anyone-just look at Nicki Minaj, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and so many others who have opened up about their struggles. Instead of making your friend feel bad about feeling bad, let her know you're there for her any time she needs to vent.
4. "Don't be such a downer."
It was probably super-hard for her to open up about how she feels, so this isn't the time for tough love. "Say, 'I really care about you, and I want to make the time to discuss this, so let's sit down and have coffee,'" Dr. Nadkarni says. And remember that depression can make it hard to do anything, so if your friend seems withdrawn or bails on plans, try not to take it personally.
5. "They discontinued my fave shade of lip gloss. I'm so depressed."
Someone with depression can feel down for days, weeks, even months-so try to avoid using the word to mean you're a little bummed about something. "That can imply that you're not taking a medical condition really seriously," Dr. Nadkarni says. "That can be hurtful, because it can invalidate someone's illness." Stick to words like sad, annoyed, frustrated, or disappointed to describe those temporary setbacks.
6. "Suicide is so selfish."
How you react to stories in the news about depression and suicide will show your friend whether she can trust you to take her seriously and offer judgment-free support. If a friend does confide that she's thought about suicide, don't brush her off. "Taking a statement like that very, very seriously is incredibly important," Dr. Nadkarni says. Let her know you're grateful that she trusted you, and take immediate action to help her get the support she needs. This is a lot to handle on your own, so don't hesitate to ask a parent, teacher, or physician for guidance. Even if you're worried she'll be mad at you for telling someone who can help her, you'll be glad you got her the help she needs before it was too late.
7. "Feel better now?"
Being there for a friend with depression requires more than one heart-to-heart - she needs to know she can count on you for the long haul. "A lot of times when people have depression, they feel like it's all over, that nothing can help them, that they're at the end of a journey," Dr. Nadkarni says. Instead, she suggests, "Point out that they're actually at the beginning, and there's a vast array of information and experts out there that can assist." As much as you want to help your friend, depression is a serious mental illness, so don't feel bad if despite all your effort, your friend doesn't seem to be getting better. Encourage her to see a professional who can help diagnose her and get her the treatment she needs, and if you're worried about her, don't hesitate to tell a parent, teacher or counselor.
If you or someone you know needs help, please call 1 (800) 931-2237 or find more resources here.
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