The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

10 things not to say to someone with a mental illness | Aruma

The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14. For advice and support contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

When someone close to you has a mental illness, it’s hard to know what to say – and no matter how good your intentions, some suggestions or comments can do more harm than good. Here are ten things we think are best left unsaid, and the reasons why.

1. “It’s all in your head.”

OK, so mental illnesses are technically “in your head”, meaning they’re caused by a set of complex factors such as brain chemistry. But they are by no means imaginary which is why this comment is so hurtful.

Not only does this attitude trivialise the emotional symptoms of a mental illness, it ignores the many physical symptoms that mental illnesses can cause, such as tiredness, a churning gut, muscle pains, disturbed sleep, and weight loss or gain.

2. “Come on, things could be worse!”

“So-and-so lost their job, was diagnosed with cancer, and accidentally ran over their cat. So don’t be sad because things could be worse.”

For people who have never experienced a mental illness, it can be hard to understand that depression and other mental illnesses often have no trigger at all.

When you compare other people’s problems, you run the risk of belittling their experiences. And the idea that, “there are people who have it so much harder”, can worsen feelings of guilt.

3. “Snap it!”

This is one of the most commonly used and most dismissive comments of all. Telling someone to “cheer up” or “let it go” sends a damaging message: that mental illness is something to be ignored, endured, or both.

When it comes to mental illness, you can’t just flick a switch and ‘snap it’.

4. “But you have a great life, you always seem so happy!”

Although someone may seem to have it all, depression can affect anyone, even the rich and famous – just look at Nicki Minaj, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, and so many others who have opened up about their mental illness.

The reality is that many people hide their mental illness under a mask of happiness. Some may not feel comfortable to reveal how they truly feel; others might do it as a coping mechanism.

For whatever reason, don’t tell someone they seem “fine” just because they’re laughing along at your jokes.

5. “Have you tried chamomile tea?”

This is the kind of well-meaning comment that many of us have made at some point when you’re trying to think of a way to help. But the fact is, herbal tea (or other magic wand solutions) just don’t cut it when you’re experiencing a mental illness.

A nice idea and we understand people have good intentions, but no amount of tea is really going to help.

6. “Everyone is a little down/moody/OCD sometimes – it’s normal.”

Often people will say “Everyone gets depressed, I was depressed for a few days last year.”

It’s true that everyone can feel a little down sometimes, or have mood swings, or get fixated on something, but, this is often not the same as having a mental illness.

If someone is constantly told that the way they’re feeling is “normal”, they’re much less ly to seek the treatment they need.

7. “This too shall pass.”

While everyone is different, you shouldn’t really tell someone that their mental illness will pass on its own; or that they “just need time”.

While it does take time, it often also takes professional medical treatment, and the love and care of a non-judgmental support network.

8. “It’s all part of God’s plan.”

While of course everyone has their own beliefs, comments this are not very helpful.

Remember, the person may not share your spiritual beliefs – and even if they do, they may already be wrestling with different emotions such as feeling ashamed or worried that God is somehow punishing or testing them for something they have done.

Also, for someone who is struggling with their faith or spirituality, this might actually push them further away.

And no, mental illness is not the work of ‘the devil’ or ‘being possessed’– yes, we have heard that one before too.

9. “Just try to be positive!”

Suggesting that someone can treat their mental illness with a simple attitude adjustment is unrealistic – it’s a little telling someone with diabetes to think happy thoughts instead of giving them insulin.

Mental illnesses can be serious conditions, and often require treatment to match. If only it was as simple as turning that frown upside down!

10. “Suicide is so selfish.”

Suicide is a desperate act by someone who is in intense pain and wants their pain to stop. This is not a selfish response, it is a human response – a decision no one makes unless they feel there is truly no other option.

For someone who has a mental illness and especially those having thoughts about suicide, it is so important that they are supported to get help.

What should I say?

We admit, it’s not always easy to know what to say in all situations, and that’s ok. Every person has their own preferences, however, here are a few things you may say to someone who has a mental illness – feel free to put your own personal spin on these as well.

“Thank you for telling me.”

“Talk to me. I’m listening.”

“Would you to talk about what you’re going through? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?”

“Have you spoken to your doctor or therapist about how you are feeling?”

“I am proud of you for getting the support you need.”

“What can I do to help?”

“This must be hard for you, but you’re going to get through it.”

“I am there for you, you’re not alone in this.”

“You are important to me.”

“I love you.”

A lot of the time, simply listening can be helpful. It’s also important to talk to the person in the same way you have always done – they’re the same person, and letting them know your relationship is stable can be very important.

Helping someone get support

Mental illness can be treated. It is so important make sure your loved one has access to professional help if they need it.

Let the person know that they’re not alone, and there are a huge range of medical professionals, support groups and other resources out there.

If you (or someone you know) are concerned about any symptoms of mental illness, talk to a GP or medical professional.

If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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10 Things to Say to Someone with Depression

The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Having a supportive person to talk to when you’re feeling depressed can really help ease the symptoms a little.

There are no magic words that will make someone feel better and it can be tough to know what to say to someone that is suffering. In my opinion, avoiding the subject is the worst tactic.

It breeds guilt within the sufferer and makes them feel an outsider, which can end up pushing them further away.

When I feel helpless and upset it’s important that I feel comforted, even when I can’t explain exactly what the problem is. If you know someone who deals with depression take the time to ask them if they are OK and tell them that you’re there for them. Even these few simple words can make them feel less alone.

Here are some helpful things to say to someone who is struggling. This is by no means a complete list of what to say –  it’s just a few things that have worked for me.

1. “Do you want some space?”

Although it’s important to show support by being present in someone’s life and ensure they are not isolating themselves, often some time alone can be helpful to digest how they’re feeling or just recharge their batteries. Offering to give someone space if they really need it can be a good idea.

2. “I’m here for you”

Just knowing someone is there when we need them can be a great comfort. Many people with mental health problems are reluctant to ask for help, as they don’t want to bother people with their issues. Expressing to a loved one that you are there whenever they are ready to talk is a good start to opening up lines of communication.

3. “I love you”

Feeling alone, upset and helpless can be terrifying. You don’t always need to have the answer to their problems as there is rarely a perfect solution. Just saying, “I love you” lets them know they have your support no matter what they’re going through.

4. “Take as long as you need”

For someone in a deep depression or even just an extremely low mood, seemingly easy tasks can feel overwhelming. Everyday things, such as taking a shower or cooking might seem too much to deal with, especially early in the day. Many people with depression feel their mood lifts towards the end of the day, so allowing them extra time to do these tasks is a good plan.

5. “You don’t need to do anything that makes you uncomfortable”

Feeling pressured into something, such as social situations when you’re feeling depressed can be incredibly upsetting. You may feel obliged to appear cheerful, which can be very difficult. Knowing these events can be avoided for the time being can help a person feel relaxed and allow them the time to focus on their own health.

6. “Everything is going to be OK”

It sounds simple, but just telling someone that everything is going to be OK can soothe their mood. When people get upset or frustrated, they often jump to the ‘worst case scenario’. Gently calming them down and reminding them what small steps can be taken to improve the situation can help.

7. “I don’t think you’re crazy”

There is still so much stigma around mental health that sufferers often feel marginalised for having a problem. Feeling alone and different from everyone else will only exacerbate the problem, so remind your loved one that although their illness is real, it’s treatable and doesn’t make them any less of a person.

8. “You’re a good person”

Guilt is a common feeling with depression and can be a trigger, as well as a symptom. Often people feel they are a bad person because they were too sick to go to work or attend a social occasion; but this is not the case. You wouldn’t judge someone for missing an event due to physical illness, so why would you think someone was a bad person for being mentally unwell?

9. “It’s not your fault”

It’s common for mental health issues to seem easy to fix on the surface, but as we know it’s often a complex issue that can take years to resolve. Reminding the person that they can’t just ‘snap it’ is key; it’s not easy to fix and it’s not their fault.

10. “You’re not a burden”

People with depression often have to rely on friends and family for lots of things; such as cooking, cleaning and shopping. Be clear that you are happy to help whenever you can (being sure not to put your own health at risk). Making sure they feel comfortable asking for and receiving help can ease the pressure of daily life considerably.


Fiona Thomas is a UK blogger who suffers from depression and generalised anxiety disorder.

She is a keen advocate of mental health and uses her blog to explore these issues, help others feel less alone and break down the stigma around the subject.

She talks about how her passion for writing – along with other techniques – help her to live with depression and minimise the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

For more tips and insight into living with mental health visit


6 things to avoid saying to a person with depression

The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Major depressive disorder (often referred to as “depression”) is a common but serious mood disorder. Depression causes symptoms that negatively impact how a person thinks, feels, and copes with daily activities such as eating, sleeping, or working.

Depression is characterized by a persistent pattern of sadness (or irritability in children) or lack of pleasure in most activities most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks.1 Depression can include a wide range of symptoms (and not every person experiences every symptom), including:

  • Sad, anxious, or empty mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Changes in eating patterns, including weight loss or weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Moving or talking slowly
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Sleep disturbance (difficulty falling or staying asleep or oversleeping)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, including suicide attempts
  • Physical pains or digestive problems with no known medical cause (including frequent headaches, muscle cramps, or other pain)

Article continues below

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in the United States and can be attributed to a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors.2

If you have a friend or family member struggling with depression, you might not know what to say or how to lend support. The single best thing you can do for a friend with depression is listen without judgment.

There are a number of phrases that are sometimes used with good intentions but can actually make a person with depression feel worse. Avoid these phrases when supporting a friend with depression:

“Don’t think about it”

Some people with depression actually suffer from rumination. Ruminating means repetitively going over a thought or problem without completion, and it can contribute to increased feelings of worthlessness or helplessness in depressed patients.

A person can’t simply will depression away, and telling a person to stop thinking about their problems can actually trigger them to engage in rumination.

One study found that although ruminators do tend to reach out for help, they often don’t get the support they seek and their rumination causes social friction.

When a support system pulls away or tells the depressed person to stop thinking about it, the ruminator has more to ruminate about.3

“Think positive!”

Although psychotherapists often use cognitive reframing to help depressed patients replace negative thoughts with positive ones, this process takes time and helps the patient explore the roots of the negative thought cycle.

Telling a depressed person to “think positive” is dismissive of the medical condition that causes the symptoms and places blame on the person struggling with the disease.

“I know how you feel”

Although this statement is empathic and meant to help the depressed person feel understood, it can backfire. There is a significant difference between clinical depression and sadness. It’s normal to experience feelings of sadness, but depression is a mood disorder that negatively impacts a person’s ability to attend to normal daily activities.

Statements this one minimize the person’s pain.

“Count your blessings”

There tends to be a lot of guilt and shame with depression. Depressed people often describe feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness. Because depression is an invisible disease (people don’t necessary appear “depressed”), there is a stigma surrounding the disease.

Statements “count your blessings” or “be grateful for what you have” imply that the person is depressed because he or she simply can’t see what they do have.

“It could be worse”

Comparisons to other people fighting other battles are rarely useful. When a depressed person reaches out for social support, he or she is looking for empathy and compassion.

Although there might be other people suffering from any number of medical conditions, telling a depressed person that someone else has it worse only makes that person feel ashamed.

“Get over it”

Depression is a serious medical condition, and simply telling someone to move on or get over it won’t actually cure it. This kind of statement lacks compassion and will ly make the person with depression feel shamed and misunderstood.

There are no perfect answers when it comes to supporting a friend or loved one with depression, and questions can be just as helpful as statements when a depressed person opens up. Try a few of these empathic responses:

  • How can I help you during this difficult time?
  • I’m sorry that you’re hurting. I’m here for you.
  • Tell me more about it.
  • Would you to take a walk with me?
  • Can I keep you company today?
  • Can I bring you dinner this week?
  • Thank you for sharing this with me so that I can understand what you’re going through.
[1] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 160-161. [2] National Institute of Mental Health, “Depression”, Retrieved from: [3] Nolen-Hoeksema, S. & Davis, C.G., “Thanks for sharing that,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77 (4), 1999: 801–814.


Best and Worst Things to Say to Someone Who is Depressed

The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Some people trivialize depression (often unintentionally) by dropping a platitude on a depressed person as if that is the one thing they needed to hear.

While some of these thoughts have been helpful to some people (for example, some find that praying is very helpful), the context in which they are often said mitigates any intended benefit to the hearer.

Platitudes don't cure depression.

Here is the list from contributors to ask:

0. «What's your problem?»

1. «Will you stop that constant whining? What makes you think that anyone cares?»

2. «Have you gotten tired yet of all this me-me-me stuff?»

3. «You just need to give yourself a kick in the rear.»

4. «But it's all in your mind.»

5. «I thought you were stronger than that.»

6. «No one ever said life was fair.»

7. «As you get stronger you won't have to wallow in it as much.»

8. «Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.»

9. «Do you feel better now?» (Usually said following a five minute conversation in which the speaker has asked me «what's wrong?» and «would you to talk about it?» with the best of intentions, but absolutely no understanding of depression as anything but an irrational sadness.)

10. «Why don't you just grow up?»

11. «Stop feeling sorry for yourself.»

12. «There are a lot of people worse off than you.»

13. «You have it so good, why aren't you happy?»

14. «It's a beautiful day!»

15. «You have so many things to be thankful for, why are you depressed?»

16. «What do you have to be depressed about.»

17. «Happiness is a choice.»

18. «You think you've got problems…»

19. «Well at least it's not that bad.»

20. «Maybe you should take vitamins for your stress.»

21. «There is always somebody worse off than you are.»

22. «Lighten up!»

23. «You should get off all those pills.»

24. «You are what you think.»

25. «Cheer up!»

26. «You're always feeling sorry for yourself.»

27. «Why can't you just be normal?»

28. «Things aren't *that* bad, are they?»

29. «Have you been praying/reading the Bible?»

30. «You need to get out more.»

31. «We have to get together some time.» [Yeah, right!]

32. «Get a grip!»

33. «Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.»

34. «Take a hot bath. That's what I always do when I'm upset.»

35. «Well, everyone gets depressed sometimes!»

36. «Get a job!»

37. «Smile and the world smiles with you, cry and you cry alone.»

38. «You don't look depressed!»

39. «You're so selfish!»

40. «You never think of anyone but yourself.»

More of the Worst Things to Say to a Person with Depression

41. «You're just looking for attention.»

42. «Have you got PMS?»

43. «You'll be a better person because of it!»

44. «Everybody has a bad day now and then.»

45. «You should buy nicer clothes to wear.»

46. «You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.»

47. «Why don't you smile more?»

48. «A person your age should be having the time of your life.»

49. «The only one you're hurting is yourself.»

50. «You can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it.»

51. «This is a place of business, not a hospital.» (after confiding to supervisor about my depression)

52. «Depression is a symptom of your sin against God.»

53. «You brought it on yourself»

54. «You can make the choice for depression and its effects, or against depression, it's all in your hands.»

55. «Get off your rear and do something.» -or- «Just do it!»

56. «Why should I care?»

57. «Snap it, will you?»

58. «You want to feel this way.»

59. «You have no reason to feel this way.»

60. «Its your own fault.»

61. «That which does not kill us makes us stronger.»

62. «You're always worried about *your* problems.»

63. «Your problems aren't that big.»

64. «What are you worried about? You should be fine.»

65. «Just don't think about it.»

66. «Go Away.»

67. «You don't have the ability to do it.»

68. «Just wait a few weeks, it'll be over soon.»

69. «Go out and have some fun!»

70. «You're making me depressed as well…»

71. «I just want to help you.»

72. «The world out there is not that bad…»

73. «Just try a little harder!»

74. «Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.»

75. «You need a boy/girl-friend.»

76. «You need a hobby.»

77. «Just pull yourself together»

78. «You'd feel better if you went to church»

79. «I think your depression is a way of punishing us.» &emdash;My mother

80. «Sh_t or get off the pot.»

81. «So, you're depressed. Aren't you always?»

82. «What you need is some real tragedy in your life to give you perspective.»

83. «You're a writer, aren't you? Just think of all the good material you're getting this.»

84. This one is best executed with an evangelical-style handshake, i.e., one of my hands is imprisoned by two belonging to a beefy person who thinks he has a lot more charisma than I do: «Our thoughts and prayers are with you.» This has actually happened to me. Bitten-back response: «Who are 'our'? And don't do me any favors, schmuck.»

85. «Have you tried chamomile tea?»

86. «So, you're depressed. Aren't you always?»

87. «You will be ok, just hang in there, it will pass.» «This too shall pass.» —Ann Landers

88. «Oh, perk up!»

89. «Try not being so depressed.»

90. «Quit whining. Go out and help people and you won't have time to brood…»

91. «Go out and get some fresh air… that always makes me feel better.»

92. «You have to take up your bed and carry on.»

93. «Why don't you give up going to these quacks (i.e., doctors) and throw out those pills, then you'll feel better.»

94. «Well, we all have our cross to bear.»

95. «You should join band or chorus or something. That way you won't be thinking about yourself so much.»

96. «You'll change your mind.»

97. «You're useless.»

98. «Nobody is responsible for your depression.»

99. «You don't feeling that way? So, change it.»

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Best Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

It is most tempting when you find out someone is depressed, to attempt to immediately fix the problem. However, until the depressed person has given you permission to be their therapist (as a friend or professional), the following responses are more ly to help the depressed.

The things that didn't make me feel worse are words which 1) acknowledge my depression for what it is (Not 'it's just a phase') 2) give me permission to feel depressed (Not 'but why should you be sad?')

1. «I love you!»

2. «I care»

3. «You're not alone in this»

4. «I'm not going to leave/abandon you»

5. «Do you want a hug?»

6. «I love you (if you mean it).»

7. «It will pass, we can ride it out together.»

8. «When all this is over, I'll still be here (if you mean it) and so will you.»

9. «Don't say anything, just hold my hand and listen while I cry.»

10. «All I want to do know is give you a hug and a shoulder to cry on..»

11. «Hey, you're not crazy!»

12. «May the strength of the past reflect in your future.»

13. «God does not play dice with the universe.» —A. Einstein

14. «A miracle is simply a do-it-yourself project.» —S. Leek

15. «We are not primarily on earth to see through one another, but to see one another through» — (from someone's sig.)

16. «If the human brain were simple enough to understand, we'd be too simple to understand it.» —a co-developer of Prozac, quoted from «Listening to Prozac»

17. «You have so many extraordinary gifts; how can you expect to live an ordinary life?» —from the movie «Little Women» (Marmee to Jo)

18. «I understand your pain and I empathize.»

19. «I'm sorry you're in so much pain. I am not going to leave you. I am going to take care of myself so you don't need to worry that your pain might hurt me.»

20. «I listen to you talk about it, and I can't imagine what it's for you. I just can't imagine how hard it must be.»

21. «I can't really fully understand what you are feeling, but I can offer my compassion.»

22. «You are important to me.»

23. «If you need a friend….. (and mean it)»

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