Yesterday I was having a nosey around the Depression Alliance’s website and found an interesting list of ten things not to say to someone who is depressed:
- There’s always someone worse off than you are.
- No one ever said that life was fair.
- Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
- So, you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?
- Try not to be so depressed.
- It’s your own fault.
- I think your depression is a way of punishing us.
- Haven’t you grown tired of all this me, me, me stuff yet?
- Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.
- Have you tried chamomile tea?
(full list here – also includes 10 things to say)
With the exception of ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’*, I suppose I’ve been lucky in that no-one has said any of the above to me. Still, it got me thinking about the way people have responded to me when I’ve told them I suffer from depression, or more rarely, when I’ve been talking about the impact it has on me…
In my experience the most common and the most frustrating thing people say is one of the many variations of ‘but why are you depressed’ or, in other words, ‘depression itself isn’t a real thing; what’s actually the matter with you?’ Sometimes it seems that it is impossible for people to grasp that this is a question that a depressed person can rarely answer. Sure, some bouts of depression are triggered by an event or experience (the kind of event that everybody finds difficult to deal with – redundancy, relationship breakdown, bereavement). However, even when that is the case (bearing in mind that many episodes of depression have no identifiable trigger), by the time the illness has taken hold the starting point has almost completely lost its relevance and the thing that is the matter is simply the fact that you are suffering from depression.
At this point, I do feel I should point out that over the years a lot of fantastic people have said a lot of fantastic and helpful things to me. Often people recount their own experiences of recovering from depression and I’ve always found this to be an extremely encouraging thing to hear when I’m in the pit. There’s a lot of re-assurance to be found in knowing that people you know (or people that know people you know) have found a way to climb out and put their lives back together – it’s a little bit of hope to cling on to.
At the same time, I have received a great deal of practical advice (put your shoes on and leave the flat being a particularly valuable one) and recommendations for resources and support material (this one being my favourite so far). Above all else, people have been kind enough to offer a wealth of helpful words of wisdom which have helped me keep my head in troubled times. For example here’s a particular gem that a former counsellor passed on to me years ago and which still means a lot to me ‘Everyone who got to where he is had to begin where they were’ (R.L. Stevenson)
Having given the matter some thought I have been reminded that actually, the people around me right now are pretty fabulous and the people I have shared my secret with, both recently and in the past, have almost always responded with genuine empathy and compassion.
And that there is a reason to be a teeny tiny bit cheerful.
*To be fair, I think there was a certain amount of justification at the time and under the circumstances!