1) “But you have so much to live for!”
There are several problems with this response; firstly I feel I should acknowledge that it is ok to tell someone they have a beautiful family, a nice car, a good job (or anything you admire about their life) But it should stop there, and it should never be said with the intention of making a person feel guilty or selfish.
It is sometimes helpful to acknowledge a persons personal achievements as a way of boosting their confidence. I’d say though that most people don’t need a friendly reminder from someone else about their own life. It’s irritating, and its also patronising to assume that the depressed person isn’t aware of their own circumstances any more than you are.
Please remember that people can be depressed in spite of, and sometimes even because of their “seemingly perfect life” – it is not up to you, a complete stranger, or inquisitive family member, to make a judgement about the way a person feels based on a quick summation of their life and assets.
It is also considerate to keep in mind that although a sense of perspective may be skewed for the person suffering, reminding them of the circumstances that they live in and became depressed within, is not going to “change their mind” about the way they feel. Regardless of external circumstances, a persons inner world is often at conflict with their outward appearance. This may be because of embarrassment, it may be because that person doesn’t wear their heart on their sleeve, it may be for a whole host of reasons. Trying to talk somebody out of their feelings by reminding them they have a good job and a nice car isn’t helpful. If you want to help them, remind them of the things you like about them, i.e. what you admire and treasure about them as a person. This way, you may make them feel validated at a time when their sense of self is eroding.
2) “Why don’t you just focus on your life instead of getting so down on yourself?”
Literal interpretation = “Why don’t you just pretend you are not feeling the way you are feeling so you can stop inconveniencing me and other people”. Obviously there are several problems with this reasoning I want to talk about. Firstly, pretending that something is, or wanting something to be different doesn’t make it so, and saying something like this also blatantly highlights that the “offending reasoner” thinks that a depressed persons state of mind counts for nothing within the context of their own life.
If I hadn’t been depressed, I would have just been able to get on with my own life without causing other people the particular kind of pain and heartache that is associated with having family members that are depressed. However, as it stands, depression made living contentedly impossible. It wasn’t and isn’t a case of just “pretending” and the person isn’t going to want to try to make any useful changes to their life if you insist it can be done easily. As Stephen Fry quite eloquently said, depression is not something that is subject to reason, if you can reason yourself out of it, you must have reasoned yourself into it. To put it another way, nobody would reason themselves into a ditch and reason lying there until they felt it was reasonable to exit the ditch, for no good reason. Sometimes depression can be something that happens as a result of extremely stressful situations in life, this is understandable. The fact that it is understandable and reasonable for someone to (for example) be grieving desperately for a long time at the loss of a loved one, does not mean that they chose that specific reaction in a fit of reason and it is their fault that they are so desperate, it means only that it is a reasonable response for them, proportionate to their individual trauma.
There has to be an acknowledgement of a struggle by everyone involved who is helping that person before it can be tackled. People are more likely to have an aversion to openness if their emotions have been discredited or trivialised by family/friends/professionals before. Remember to be sensitive. Also remember that even if a persons problems appear trivial to you, you don’t get to say what does and doesn’t hurt another person. if they tell you that it hurts, it hurts.
3) “You could be a starving child in Africa, I bet they don’t complain about it”
I’d imagine that starving children in Africa do indeed undergo a great deal of suffering, but to make a comparison between depression a person has in a Western civilisation and chronic malnourishment is just ridiculous. Each deserves it’s own acknowledgment, but there should be no comparison, because there just isn’t a comparison. It may well be that many people who have terrible life circumstances or life limiting illnesses do not complain and are happy and jolly all the time. It may also be though that people have different coping thresholds, different priorities, different perspectives, different ways of expressing themselves, and different lives that count for an awful lot more than a flimsy and judgemental comparison.
4) “Why don’t you go travelling, see the world?”
Yes, what a great idea, I’ll just get all my non-existent money together and jet off to a part of the world I know nothing about to explore it all when I can’t even set foot outside my own bedroom at the moment. Frankly, this is one of the tritest pieces of advice I have ever heard. Going on holiday does not make people less depressed if they are actually depressed. If you are not actually depressed and just “depressed” e.g. You are fed up of English weather and your boss is annoying you, then yes, a holiday might be a good idea. Planning a holiday (or world travel) requires firstly will to live, and an urge to enjoy life (which I will have none of if I’m depressed), secondly a great deal of concentration and enthusiasm for planning and organising, and thirdly, a resolve to deal with the stress that inevitably follows from organising trips abroad (and actually travelling). If I can’t even remember to wash my own pyjamas then I don’t think I’m quite ready to leap onto the next plane departing to Indonesia.
5) “I think you need to put things in perspective”
Well here’s the problem, I have done that, and so have most people that have been/are depressed. Furthermore, that is often exactly what is so depressing. You are overwhelmed by your perspective on life – often people with depression will lament “It’s too much”, “I can’t cope with my life” etc, that is another way of saying, “It is too much for me to continue having this perspective”. If you are aware of your perspective on your life, then by definition you have self reflected, you have analysed. When you have a depressed perspective on life, unsurprisingly it is depressing. With a consistently low mood comes over-analysing, hours of self reflection, and quite often a crippling sense of self loathing because of it. As I’ve said before it “may not seem that bad”, but that is because it appears to be that way to you, from your perspective, as a happy and settled person. You don’t need to make someone feel worse by hammering home how “normal” you are, because chances are, you aren’t as infallible as you think you may be.