How Not to Talk to A Depressed Person

Self Portrait by Van Gogh

Vincent Willem van Gogh struggle with depression ended, sadly, with his suicide.
Vincent Willem van Gogh struggle with depression ended, sadly, with his suicide. | Source

The Old Cliches Don't Help

When it comes to talking to a person with depression, many people think they know how to handle it but they don’t, and often the things they say do not help.

If there is a person in your life who suffers from depression, you really need to learn more about the illness. It is far more significant than you might think.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report that 1 in 10 adults report suffering from depression.[1] That doesn’t include those who suffer in silence or aren’t aware they are suffering from the illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that over 121 million people report suffering from depression worldwide. [2]

The consequences of depression are significant. Numerous medical studies report that depression makes treating chronic illnesses more difficult. Left untreated, depression can lead to suicide. The WHO reports that 850,000 people take their lives every year.[3]

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 3 neurotransmitters factor heavily into depression. They are: Norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.[4] Antidepressant medication works to create a balance between these neurotransmitters and, as a result, improves depression.

What is important to know is that depression can be treated and lives can improve as a result.

If there is a depressed person in your life, here are some of the things that are not good to say to that person:

Depression is a regular part of life.” It is not. A depressed mood over loss or other of life’s many frustrations is not unusual but a sustained depression is in no way, shape or form normal.

Just snap out of it.” Depression is not something you can change at will.

Get it out of your head.” If anyone could simply get depression out of their head, it would be a miracle and it would render hundreds of years of research and billions of dollars useless. It is just not that easy.

Quit being so negative.” Negativity speaks more to a mood than actual depression, which is far more complicated.

Make up your mind that you are just going to get better.” Depression saps the determination out of many people.

What you can do:

Express concern: Depression causes considerable worry. Let the person know you are worried about them.

Be patient:Depression does not happen immediately. It also does not improve immediately.

Suggest help: Mental health professionals are best equipped to deal with depression. Self-styled experts fall an extremely distant second.

Learn: There are many websites and books about mental health-related issues. Use them to your advantage.

Call for emergency help if you think the depressed person might hurt themselves. Suicide is the eleventh highest cause of death in the United States.[5] All states have mental health intervention laws on the books that empower law enforcement to intervene if they think a person is at risk to harm themselves or others.

Depression is an enormous public health issue. The CDC recently cited a recent study that indicated the costs for treating depression and the associated loss of productivity is $300 billion dollars per year.[6]

Depression is not a moral issue or a matter of weakness. It is worth remembering that your sincere concern for the depressed person in your life can make a real difference.


[1] http://www.cdc.gov/features/dsdepression/

[2] http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/definition/en/

[3] http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/definition/en/

[4]http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Depression&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88956

[5] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/suicide.html

[6] http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/medical/mentalhealth/story/2011-09-05/CDC-Half-of-Americans-will-suffer-from-mental-health-woes/50250702/1

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Comments 7 comments

A M Lehrer profile image

A M Lehrer 5 years ago from Southern United States

Depression is certainly a very huge concern. Living with a depressed person will take a toll on you! Not many people know how to help and leaves all involved feeling useless. My heart goes out to those living with depression. I was married to one and the whole family was at a loss at what to do. It did not end well.


janeenjesse@yahoo profile image

janeenjesse@yahoo 5 years ago from Rensselaer NY

A powerful article.


thebluestar profile image

thebluestar 5 years ago from Northern Ireland

Depression, even the very thought of it makes me go cold. It is a horrendous illness that few understand. You can see a broken leg, but you can't see a broken mind. Very well written.


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Did my previous comment show up?


cwhyel profile image

cwhyel 5 years ago from Charleroi, Pennsylvania Author

No. Sorry. Now that I look over it, I see a prior response to a comment did not show up as well.


Kush 4 years ago

Good work, my friend. One wonders how depression can still be misunderstood so much.


cwhyel profile image

cwhyel 4 years ago from Charleroi, Pennsylvania Author

Thanks, Kush. Many people misunderstand depression because it is complicated and serious, thus it conflicts with their know-it-all world views that are usually summed up in a second or two.

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