Suffer from depression? You’re not alone – no, really, you’re not alone. Figures from Aware suggest that up to 400,000 of us are suffering from depression at any one time, which makes it one of the most common mental illness going.
And we all know – because it’s been drummed into us left, right and centre – that the best thing to do when you suffer from depression is to talk. Right? But what about those on the receiving end? Shouldn’t someone give them some lessons on how to listen?
Here are just a few examples of what depression sufferers are up against when they decide to take the advice and “talk” about their problems.
1. ‘Sure, what have you got to be depressed about?’
This is the common Irish Mammy response. Aren’t you grand? You’re grand! Everything’s grand. Depressed? Nah – you’re grand.
Not only does this just dismiss the fact that depression doesn’t always have a definite cause or, y’know, a definite solution, it also piles guilt on top of depression: if you don’t have a “good” reason to be depressed, well, shut up and put up.
2. ‘Ah, we all have weeks where we feel down – don’t worry!’
It’s true: low moods aren’t exclusive to depression sufferers, and not every low mood equals depression. But if someone’s trying to tell you how shit they’re feeling, day in and day out, it’d probably be better if you tried really, really hard not to dismiss them.
Ask how long they’ve been feeling this way; if it’s been going on for longer than a fortnight, we’ve moved outside the realm of “normality” and it’s worth advising them to talk to a professional.
3. ‘Have you tried going for a nice walk?’
Best met with a blank stare (and a punch in the mouth), this is the equivalent of asking a drowning person if they’ve tried swimming. No, I haven’t tried going for a nice walk because I’m too busy crying and wondering if things will ever get better.
4. Are you not afraid you’ll get addicted?
Obviously, not every person who suffers from depression is on meds – just like not everybody who breaks a leg needs to get pins inserted to keep their bones together.
But for those who do choose to take medication, it’d be smart to support their choices, rather than suggest that those choices are somehow wrong or dangerous. (It’s hard enough as it is.)
5. ‘I think having a positive mindset helps!’
Oh, really? Gosh, that’s something I’d never thought of before – I hadn’t noticed the reams of books, T-shirts, articles and self-help gurus shilling that exact same advice! Hold on, I’ll just try it.
Okay, so I’m closing my eyes and I’m smiling inside and thinking about all the things I have to be grateful for… Hang on, what?! Depression isn’t caused by cynicism, sarcasm or being pessimistic. And if you think it is, just stop talking.
6. ‘I know this amazing homeopathist / reiki healer…’
No. Just – no.
7. ‘My friend tried this great thing…’
It’s incredibly helpful to hear about people who are going through similar experiences, sure – but sometimes, when a depressed person tries to talk to you, that’s all they want: to talk.
They don’t want you to solve their problems – unless you’re a doctor or therapist – and they don’t want you to suggest a shitload of options that probably seem really overwhelming.
They just want you to sit down, make them a cup of tea and say, “Yeah, that’s really shit – I’m so sorry you’re feeling like this.” And then you keep sitting there, and you keep making tea, and you keep sympathising. It’s not all that difficult.