6 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Depression

Depressionman-giving-meds-to-wife affects nearly 15 million adults—about 6.7% of the U.S. population—every year. The severity of depression varies from person to person, with some people experiencing only mild depression and others experiencing depression that is debilitating. While the cause of depression is not clearly understood at this time—it’s likely a result of a number of factors such as genes, environment, brain chemistry, and overall health—the odds are high that someone in your life will eventually experience the condition.

“Mood disorders, including depression, are the most commonly diagnosed mental health issues,” said Andrea Risi, a Denver-based therapist and GoodTherapy.org blogger. “Unless you’ve experienced depression, it is difficult to understand what someone is going through.”

A supportive environment can help your loved one tackle depression and work toward wellness. The wrong words, however, can leave a person feeling undervalued or blamed and less likely to lean on or confide in you.

Here are suggestions for what not to say to a person experiencing depression:

‘Just take medication!’

Not all people with depression get better with medication, and even when they do, the decision to take medication isn’t easy. Some people prefer natural remedies, and antidepressants can cause sexual problems, weight gain, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, sleep disturbances, and other frustrating side effects. Your loved one has the right to choose whether or not to take medication, and if you try to force him or her into a prescription cure, your loved one may feel controlled or demeaned.

Instead, talk about what you can do to help him or her. If your loved one is considering medication, offer to help him or her research options.

Just as it is important not to discourage someone from taking medication, it’s equally important not to encourage someone to cease taking medication. For those whose lives are improved with medication, the change can feel miraculous. But the choice to stop taking medication can lead to more depression. Support your loved one’s choices and ask him or her how those choices affect the depression.

‘Stop being so self-involved!’

To an outsider, the negativity a depressed person feels can be a mystery. It might seem like your loved one has nothing to be unhappy about, or even like he or she is avoiding making healthy lifestyle choices, but depression distorts people’s thoughts in a way that makes it challenging for them to be positive. This, in turn, can make it tough to make healthy choices.

Instead of judging your loved one’s thoughts and feelings, try offering a distraction instead. A movie date or coffee break may help your loved one feel supported and valued.

Meri Levy, a therapist based in Lafayette, California, said it can be challenging to support a loved one with depression, but it’s worth the effort.

“It is so difficult for friends and family to know what to say to a loved one who is suffering from depression,” said Levy, who specializes in postpartum depression for The Good Therapy Blog. “In my experience, it makes a huge difference to acknowledge what a difficult time this is, and to express genuine caring.”

‘It’s not that bad.’

The severity of depression varies, but for a small number of people, depression is so painful that it leads to suicide. It doesn’t matter if your loved one’s life seems perfect. His or her brain has distorted the world in such a way that everything seems dark or bad, and you can’t shame your loved one out of these feelings by telling the person how good he or she has it.

Instead, try complimenting your friend on small achievements and empathizing with his or her experience. Positive statements that acknowledge what your loved one is experiencing—such as, “I know it’s hard for you to go to work right now, but I’m proud of you for pulling it off”—can go a long way toward helping a loved one feel understood.

“A person experiencing depression often cannot absorb positivity the same way as non-depressed people,” said Angela Avery, a GoodTherapy.org blog contributor who has a therapy practice in Clarkston, Michigan. “So telling them, ‘It’s not that bad’ is like saying, ‘Snap out of it!’ and creates further harm.”

‘I understand.’

We all want to empathize with people we love, but we cannot fully know what another person’s experience is like. Saying you understand may be received as minimizing the other person’s feelings.

Instead of saying you understand, work to be more understanding. Ask your loved one about his or her experience, actively listen to what he or she has to say, and ask what you can do to make the symptoms feel a little less difficult.

Instead of saying you understand, work to be more understanding. Ask your loved one about his or her experience, actively listen to what he or she has to say, and ask what you can do to make the symptoms feel a little less difficult. For example, picking up the kids or making dinner can feel challenging for someone facing depression. By offering to tackle these tasks for your loved one, you may provide him or her with temporary relief from feelings of overwhelm.

“Letting the person know that you want to help in any way you can is better than offering advice or trying to change the person’s perceptions,” Levy said. “Checking in regularly, letting your loved one know you’re available if he or she needs to talk, and expressing faith that he or she will get through this are the most important ways you can help.”

‘Happiness is a choice.’

For people who don’t struggle with depression or other mental health challenges, this may be true. It’s unlikely that anyone would willingly choose depression, though. Your loved one cannot will his or her way out of depression, just as your loved one can’t will away diabetes or cancer.

“There is a multitude of books, classes, and other psycho-educational tools on how to choose happiness, or harness the power of positive thinking. These can be extremely helpful in the process of self-improvement or confidence building, or even as coping strategies. However, for someone in the grips of clinical depression, such sentiments may not only prove fruitless, but could serve to further exacerbate feelings of guilt or shame, already powerful forces often present in the storm of depression,” said Allison Abrams, a New York-based therapist who writes for GoodTherapy.org. “Rather than contributing to your loved one’s sense of helplessness, try to empathize and realize depression is never a choice.”

Chantal Marie Gagnon, a Plantation, Florida-based therapist and GoodTherapy.org blog contributor, said happiness and unhappiness can coexist.

“If people did not have the power to change their perspective and improve their mood, then cognitive behavioral therapy would not be so effective,” Gagnon said. “Individuals suffering from depression did not consciously choose to become clinically depressed, but they do have a responsibility to seek help because depression affects entire families.”

Families, too, have a stake. Consider researching the condition so you can better understand what your loved one is up against.

“If you haven’t been personally touched by depression, there are ways for you to be empathetic and understanding,” Risi said. “Besides asking your loved one directly about his or her experience with depression, you can empower yourself with facts. Look for information about depression on reputable and professional websites like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and GoodTherapy.org.”

‘You’re crazy!’

Most of us know the pain we can cause if we directly call someone we love “crazy.” When you mock your loved one’s behavior or feelings, or when you tell others about your loved one’s worst and most embarrassing moments, you’re undermining his or her value as a person. People with mental health conditions frequently feel stigmatized and marginalized, and telling someone he or she is “crazy” can spur more difficult feelings or thoughts.

Instead, focus on your loved one’s successes. Make yourself an ally who’s available to attend therapy sessions, pick up slack around the house, or lend a listening ear.

“We tend to dismiss what we don’t understand, and the six comments highlighted here pinpoint our discomfort and lack of knowledge,” Avery said. “The more we know, the better we are able to help in a constructive way.”


  1. Depression Statistics. (n.d.). Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Retrieved from http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=education_statistics_depression
  2. Depression (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Carin


    July 26th, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    All of these things sound so terrible and yet the tendency for any of us to say things like this is great. I have been both the person who has been depressed (and thought the very saem things about myself!) and I have also been on the other side of it thinking that if someone would just try a little harder then there would be lots of things that they could do to get better. The things that we have to remember is that everyone heals at their own pace and in their own way. If we are anything less than supportive to them in a positive way then this will do nothing to make the situation easier or any better. As a matter of fact the more that you say that makes someone who is depressed feel demeaned then there is a greater likelihood that it could take them an even longer amount of time to feel better and well again.

  • Lana


    July 26th, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    When you tell someone to just take their meds that makes them feel like you think that this one little magic pill should solve everything when in truth depression goes far deeper than that.

  • Cecily Y

    Cecily Y

    July 27th, 2014 at 4:59 AM

    What is wrong with telling someone that you understand?
    I never get it that this is a bad thing. Why can’t this simply signal to someone that you see what they are going through and that you feel the same pain for them that they are feeling?
    I don’t get that this can be offensive to someone.
    To me it is showing that you recognize their feelings and that you want to help.

  • K.E.S


    August 2nd, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    It is not offensive, just difficult to here, because at that point you don t understand your pain. So if someone else understands it, then why can t you. The better thing to say, is simply I am here for you, what do you need from me, is there anything I could do? I have suffered from Bipolar I since I was a small child. I was diagnosed and put on Lithium when I was twelve, it took me seven years from then to realize not taking my medication was not an option, and four more years to realize that self medicating didn t help matters. You can t just tell a person what they have to do to maintain, and expect them to snap to.
    We all have to take our own Journey. You can offer help, but you can t force it on someone. They have to be ready. Sometimes all you can do is just be there, even without words, without judgement, without trying to fix it.

  • Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW

    July 27th, 2014 at 5:27 AM

    Very helpful article for those who have someone with depression in their life.

    Many of the suggestions of what not to say point at the fact that depression is not “all in your head.” Depression is a very, very physical experience. Lack of energy, sleep disruption, and real, very physical pain, for example, can and usually are part of the experience of depression.

  • Carson


    July 28th, 2014 at 4:13 AM

    I hate it when I am feeling down and someone just tells me to snap out of it, think happy thoughts, etc. Don’t you recognize that for many of us, especially for someone who is going through diagnosed clinical depression, that it is not as easy as just thinking happy thoughts and everything will be great again? There is something else going on there that has to be addressed. If it was that easy then there would be no room for therapy or even medications in our lives and obviously ther is so it is harder than just thinking your way out of it.

  • Faith


    January 23rd, 2015 at 7:24 AM

    Carson I so agree! If 1 more person says “snap out of it” I may literally Snap them! Even with all the medicine I am on and counseling some days I just can’t get out of bed or care if I die or not. And God forbid I say that then they are like what about your kids and family it would hurt them But what most people don’t understand is when your at that point you are not thinking clearly not thinking of how it would hurt the ones you love your only thinking of stopping the physical and mental pain.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    January 23rd, 2015 at 10:21 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Faith. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Tiff


    July 28th, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    I gained a lot of weight when I was depressed and that has been very hard for me because I was always so active and this has sort of taken a lot of that love out of exercise for me.

    I actually had someone say to me that if I would just start moving again I would probably feel better(true) and that it would help me take all of that weight off that I had gained.

    You can imagine just how good (sarcastic) that made me feel. How about hitting me when I am even further don next time.

  • Heather


    August 1st, 2014 at 6:33 PM

    Those were my husbands words when i gained weight from depression didnt want to even be near me then i lost the weight and have reconnected with high school buds now he’s mad when i go anywhere or dont go to bed at same he does. But alot of men are big whiners. So u just grin and b(ear)(bare) it

  • belinda


    July 30th, 2014 at 4:07 PM

    I seriously can’t believe that someone who has never gone through this would even dare to pretend like they understand what another is going through or that they prened like they would have any advice for them that would help. Give me a break, and give those suffering from depression a break too! This is not something to be dropping “helpfel hints” about, this is very serious and someone you love is hurting and they could use help, not anecdotal advice about what they should or should not do during this time.

  • Jasmine


    July 31st, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    It can be terrible when your friends act like they think that there is some kind of timeline for you to follow with your recovery, like okay it’s been two months you should be feeling better now. Unfortunately this is not the way that depresison works. We will all have our good days and our bad days, and you have to know that this sort of recovery can take time until you completely get back to feeling like your old self. And there will still be days when you feel a little lower than normal but that is normal! I think that people need to understand that you don’t choose to be depressed, no one wwould choose to feel this way. You are working to overcome it and they just need to give you the time that you need to do it on your own and on your own time table.

  • JBird


    July 31st, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    This article rings so true. My brother and I both suffer from depression/anxiety, and my mom always makes inappropriate comments “come on! just smile, the sun is shining!”… “what do you have to be down about, some people can’t even walk, etc etc” or “you need to exercise more – get on your bike, go to the gym and just sweat it out!”…. those comments are so patronizing and shaming… I cover my sadness from her most of the time so I don’t have to hear it. When I am down and she senses it, she will ask me in an angry/accusing tone “you sound tired/down” almost if she resents it. UGHHH… I’m so sick and tired of be so ashamed of myself!!!!

  • Kagome


    August 1st, 2014 at 1:14 PM

    Wow. That is so sad about your mom reacts to you and your sibling. I feel very similar. My mother acts inappropriate as well. ” ughh, again? Maybe you need to go back to the hospital” or she’ll start blaming herself. Sometimes it seems she is truly upset and feels it’s her fault, but more than that, it seems as if she is turning the tables and making herself a victim…which is why I tend to keep my mouth shut when asked about my status.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re not alone. I think parents have good intentions…mostly, but they just don’t understand how depression really affects us nor see the medical standpoint like the brain’s chemical imbalances.

    Keep fighting the good fight,
    Your disturbed friend


  • linda n.

    linda n.

    July 31st, 2014 at 10:54 AM

    today i feel like a plane without wings. i have an appt. with therapist at 4:50p.m. if i can make it I had these feelings for about 24hrs. i am trying to hang out but without my wings i think it may be impossible.

  • GoodTherapy.org Support

    GoodTherapy.org Support

    July 31st, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    Thank you for your comment, Linda. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Sulay


    August 1st, 2014 at 12:19 PM

    I’ve been told all of these and it’s like not a choice I sometimes I can’t even speak, or go out. I, like my mind wants to So badly. You dont even know but I cant get there.

  • Jacqui


    August 1st, 2014 at 10:00 PM

    This is exactly how I feel…

  • Autumn


    August 1st, 2014 at 12:53 PM

    I’ve been on both sides of the situation. What I find frustrating is when I’m living with someone who is depressed and I’m not, there is this expectation that if I don’t acknowledge their depression all the time, then you don’t care, but if I try to listen and empathize, or even just sympathize, I am accused of not understanding. So I try to go somewhere in the middle- listen to what they’re going through, but don’t make any suggestions or comments, and then try to get on with my life, but then that last part is seen as a sort of betrayal, like, “How can you just go on living while I’m here in hell?!” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  • Robin


    August 2nd, 2014 at 2:16 AM

    Absolutely !!! Do something to get help or you have to keep it shut. At 7 yo I got a speech about what I should do if i came home from school and found her dead (from suicide). I think it’s abusive.

  • Shelly


    August 1st, 2014 at 1:11 PM

    Lots of people just can’t see that some of us are fighting for our life’s . Depression is no joke nor a choice.

  • Christopher c.

    Christopher c.

    August 1st, 2014 at 6:15 PM

    I’ve lived with two people that have got bi polar depression, the first I was naive and silly though it was a mother in law to be, never hears of bi polar till I met her and days when she couldn’t get out of bed, it was soon I learned not to ask if she was ok, but I widened up, then later on I got with a partner who had bi polar, you get to know the signs of a good and bad day, days when they would talk about it and other days when they would clam up, you learn to be sympathetic, without knowing the whole story, talking to them in a calm voice and just talking about your day then there day really helps, no one really understands cause everyone is different, but learning what meds they are in and the side effects down to there menstrual cycle really does help, just be there give them a hug and not question some of there actions is a good way, cause they will open up and tell you why oll, when they have a good day.the most important thing I’d never force them to seek help they can only do that in their own time

  • Cole


    August 1st, 2014 at 7:45 PM

    When someone tells me “You Need Help” can be so very frustrating, I go from 0-100 in seconds. It’s like I can’t turn the gas off once the fire is lit. The complete emotional and physical drain I feel after a big fight is terrible, makes me feel alone, no one around me knows how this feels.

  • Louis S.

    Louis S.

    August 1st, 2014 at 8:10 PM

    I have been feeling real physical pain due to to my depression for the last two weeks. It can hurt so much. I just saw my doctor today and she said it will get better and I finaly feel a little better. My whole mood lifted when she said that.

  • Kristin M.

    Kristin M.

    August 1st, 2014 at 8:41 PM

    I have been suffering from depression since my 20’s. Today is my birthday and I am 68 years old. I have been on medications off and on many times. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do this anymore, but I have four wonderful children and three grandchildren. I will try to stay for them and my husband. The comments I have read are only part of the story. The only way that I have stayed is to get through one day at a time. I really don’t believe there is any way to help me.

  • Robin


    August 2nd, 2014 at 2:09 AM

    My mom is depressed. She’ll yell you – everyday. Tell you she has been depressed since she was 11. Won’t take anything. Won’t go to therapy. Won’t volunteer. Won’t take a class..but one thing she WILL do is complain about everything on earth from morning til night – every night. Sucked the life out of me. Most joyless person I’ve ever seen. Maybe if they would do something other than sit around for 70yrs b****ing about how she feels depressed again. Its old!!!

  • Diane


    August 2nd, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    Hi Robin-
    This sounds tough… To by and watch someone be stuck… Sometimes we have step back… Take care of the only person we can truly take care of… Ourselves.
    It sounds selfish… It seems you done everything you can,,, it sound it time for you to gain support for yourself… So you don’t anymore life sucked out of you

  • Julie


    January 23rd, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    My mother is the same way,scream yell at u for years

  • Sharon


    August 2nd, 2014 at 11:43 AM

    I have the most beautiful and amazing 2 year and 4 year old who bring the greatest joy to my life … my best friend, my mom passed away 7 years ago from cancer just after I miscarried my first baby at 25 weeks and first husband of 3 years … I ‘ve been on meds for a real long time … I’ve been in and out of hospital in the last two years about 4 or 5 times where I was so under drugs I didn’t even know I was there … I have days where I cannot take care of my kids because I cannot handle the noise and how busy the are . I’ve been called useless, pathetic and the most ungrateful person from my ‘support’ who kicked the bathroom door down so I wouldn’t slit my wrists after I was screamed at for not being able to get up on a Saturday to do the dishes …. it’s hard, real hard

  • L.A. Beason, LCSW

    L.A. Beason, LCSW

    August 3rd, 2014 at 10:53 AM

    Hi Sharon – it sounds as though you’ve been struggling for some time w/deep depression. It also sounds like your ‘support’ has a difficult time accepting/understanding your depression. You should never have to feel ashamed or be screamed at for your inability to meet someone else’s expectations no matter what’s wrong with you. Pls call your local suicide/support hotline for immediate interventions and get a referral to a counselor/therapist who can provide you with the support you deserve and need if you don’t already have one. You may also want to join a local support grp for depression or find an online forum. Your children are very fortunate to have a mother who loves them & does the best she can.

  • Paulla King

    Paulla King

    June 21st, 2015 at 5:23 AM

    Sharon, please come and check out my group for teens and young adults who suffer from MH issues and depression, we’d love to have you and support you through your tough times. It’s called ” just diamonds in the rough”, I hope to see you there. Bless you. Please keep your head up, it does get better!

  • J.L.B.


    August 3rd, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    Like several sharing, depressed on and off throughout life. Having a real sensitive body, stomach, I learned when young that pills like aspirin, antibiotics really did weird things to me. At age 19 had literally a miraculous ‘cure’ (not of depression) by a chiropractor. I learned there were other methods to getting better besides pills.
    I think nutrition is very important. Deep breathing very important. Pep talking myself, “this too shall pass.” Many famous people have been depressed their whole lives. Massage, exercise, listening to Joyce Myers, Joel Osteen , reading spiritual ‘stuff’. As some have stated, no one can ‘lift your spirits.’ Depression creeps on you over a long time of many bad habits (deprecating self, overly concerned with worldly problems, comparing, negative thinking etc.)
    We are all climbing mountains within ourselves, and going to the next level begins the pull out of depression. I found also if I can’t do anything myself, there is always someone you can help. Open doors for the elderly, read to kids in a library, call a friend and inquire of their day, walk, do one thing each day that brings a smile. Buy yourself a flower, or pop in a funny movie. Our hearts need nourishing when depressed so doing for others makes you feel good, if but for ten minutes. It adds up! Any 12 Step Program teaches a new way to use your mind.Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was your depression. Spread your arms way back, stretch those muscles to the heart.
    Write a letter to a congressman about pesticides, the water, whatever. One little act of caring goes a very long way. At a time I was severely depressed I came out of a store into parking lot. An elderly man slowly drove by me having pulled out of his spot. I saw his cane hanging in the grocery basket. I rushed to get it and fortunately, he had stopped to move out of lot. Tapped on his window. He said nothing. Took it. Went on, but I tell you, I felt so good that day. It was my little ‘magic moment’ of the day. Look for those little opportunities. I’m a senior, it’s been rough but I’m stronger, I’ve grown, as Eleanor Roosevelt stated, ” No matter what happens, do the very best you can and just keep going!” Blessings to all!

  • Soammy


    January 25th, 2015 at 9:19 AM

    You are 100 percent right! Thank you for your loving insight. I have a great friend who suffers from depression and is the most talented quilter I have ever met. The beauty of her is inside and how she reaches out to others. I also have struggled with depression. My family knows the signs of depression and tell me do I need to call Cathy? They know that she will walk beside me during my worse dark times when I don’t understand why I am depressed. I have been blessed but sad? Why? Cathy reaches out to me and say, “it’s time to rip some fabric apart”

  • Evey


    April 22nd, 2015 at 7:28 AM

    You are so right. I have had depression all my life and continue to fight it. Don’t let it win because it will try. I have gotten my Masters degree at 50 and hope to join the Peacecorps and walk the Appalachion Trail. I have set goals for myself and although it’s difficult, I refuse to give up. This is my life and I won’t live it lying in bed with the blanket over my head despite what my depression tells me to do.

  • Crystal


    August 28th, 2015 at 9:29 PM

    This was well said. Thank you.

  • Julie


    January 23rd, 2015 at 7:09 AM

    Had depression, my bf died, drug problems, been called names a long time. it’s emotional pain especially losing my bf caught hep c from him dual addiction relationship in early adult years depression can go severe level u have to choose being in today no matter the circumstances

  • lori


    June 21st, 2015 at 1:22 PM

    My favorites are “its all in your head” or “did you take your meds”….apparently when you have depression you not allowed to have feelings or emotions

  • TigerKim


    December 22nd, 2016 at 5:24 PM

    Reading all of your comments, and this article, helped me tonite. I have Fibromyalgia, live alone, have had some med changes lately and I feel better physically, but now also feel depressed. I see my MD next Tuesday, so I will discuss this with her. I feel 2016 was a really horrible year, for several reasons, and events have triggered old hurts and my mother continues to be a jerk with verbal abuse, so I have decreased contact with her. Your input lets me know I am not alone. Thank You and I hope we all have comfortable holidays.

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