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Clinical depression sucks and it’s only growing more common. Almost one in two people in the U.S. will suffer from depression or another mental health condition at some point and about one in 17 Americans actually has a serious mental illness right now.

Despite its rising rates, depression can be hard to wrap your brain around, especially if you’ve never had it. It’s not easily treated or cleared up by positive thinking, or yanking yourself up by your bootstraps, or shoving your feelings to the dark corners of the back of your mind. It’s so much deeper and more insidious than that. I once described depression this way:

“None of those external [good things you have going for you] truly register or resonate when you have depression. You can logically identify them as Good Things, and you know they are supposed to make you feel Good, but you can’t feel them, they can’t get in. It’s like your brain is wearing a full-body armor designed to keep only the good things out. Bad things … get ushered in instantly, like VIPs.”

People who don’t have depression don’t always know what to say that could possibly help to a friend or family member going through the all-encompassing yet simultaneously utterly numb sensation of your own brain turning against you. Here are a few things not to say (unless you want said friend or loved one to grow homicidal as well as miserable):

1. “Cheer up” or “chin up.”

This is the be-all, end-all of insensitive ways to respond to someone who is suffering from depression. It manages to completely trivialize and invalidate their feelings at the same time — what a feat! This one is a trite, classic, never-fail nugget routinely uttered by Pollyanna-ish positive thinkers who don’t understand how you’re feeling, so they assume it must only feel as bad as the last time they got slightly sad about their boss’ mean comment or their best friend skipping their birthday party. Depression and situational sadness are not the same thing, people. If it were easy to just flip a switch and go from depressed to super-psyched on life, don’t you think we would have flipped it by now?

2. “But medication will only numb your feelings.”

People who’ve never had mental illness can sure have lots of opinions about what works to treat it. One of the most common ways I’ve witnessed this is via concerned interlopers making snarky comments about a friend’s decision to try treating their depression with psych meds. Medication can be remarkably effective for some people;60 to 70 percent of depressed patients who are given an antidepressant actually recover in three to six weeks. But still outsiders opt to butt in with their thoughts about what they’ve heard passed off as fact in dubious corners of the Internet. For lots of people with mental illnesses like depression, meds don’t numb your feelings — they make your feelings a bit more tolerable, enough to get out of bed. You can’t really put a price — or a judgment call — on that.

3. “But you have sooooo much to be thankful for!”

AGGHHH, again with the Pollyanna positive-thinking crapola! Thank you soooo much for reminding me how few “legitimate” reasons I have to be depressed (as if depression were based on cold, factual reality instead of out-of-whack chemical wiring). Thank you for making me feel guilty about being unable to just “snap out of” my illness, as if I could actually control it. I have a working understanding of the power of gratitude. I’ve tried the whole daily-gratitude-email-listserv thing — hasn’t everyone? And I have no doubt that consciously trying to name and recognize the great aspects my life could be helpful. But does that mean it will have even the tiniest hint of perceivable impact on my depression? Doubtful.

4. “Have you tried affirmations?”

The same person urging you to start coughing up daily gratitude lists is the same person who’ll oh so helpfully suggest that you try sticking Post-Its all over your apartment. These Post-Its will, clearly, contain the magical key to your mental health, and the lame, half-formed sayings you half-heartedly scrawl on them will, obviously turn your frown upside down with their clarity, power, and fervent insistence that YOU ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED and THERE’S NO ONE IN THE WORLD WHO DESERVES LOVE MORE THAN YOU and YOU ARE BIGGER AND BETTER AND BRIGHTER THAN YOUR PROBLEMS. Or … they might just clutter up all your available vertical surfaces and make you feel shittier for never doing your affirmations.

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  • Me

    i don’t agree w/#8. especially for black people. we should be saying #8 to more black people b/c folks act like therapy is a curse. not enough black people consider therapy & definitely not enough go through w/it & stick w/it

  • dtshowme

    So basically… do nothing and let your friend keep feeling like crap.
    I’ve dealt with depression in the past and I don’t know that I agree with most of this list. It’s nice to have someone, anyone who gives a damn at all.

  • Kissyface

    I agree with some of these, esp. 1, 3, 6, 7, 9 & 10, but the thing about these lists are that they’re written from just one persons point of view, but everyone won’t feel the same way. I think that if you have a friend who’s depressed, just listen and ask if you can help them in any way instead of trying to force them to magically be happy and snap out of it.

  • Stacy L.

    “People who don’t have depression don’t always know what to say…”
    Ok, so how about giving us some advice on what to say, as uclabc stated in her comment. I think most people’s responses are coming from a place of concern; they are not trying to be insensitive.

  • the black community still has a long way to go with addressing mental illness..i agree with the sentiment behind this list..but it needs a little more nuance..i think the most effective support loved ones can offer is unwavering patience: too often loved ones approach depression as a “problem” that can be “solved”..mental illness requires constant maintenance and a strong support system

    • That is a great point.

      Those who have depression need a strong support system. Families, friends, and even worker colleagues can talk to a person with mental health problems in a fair minded, progressive way. Also, true honesty is important too. Anyone with depression needs to be told the truth in a honest, compassionate way. Depression among human beings is a human situation. It should not be treated as just an individualistic “problem,” because collective approaches can assist human beings with mental health issues. We, in the black community, should do more to not only talk about such matters, but to be proactive in helping our Brothers and our Sisters.

    • One Lala

      I was always told to ‘take it to the altar’…..Now, what the bleep is the altar supposed to do when I wake up crying in the middle of the night for no reason, or when I have an anxiety attack to the point of not being able to breath….Depression is real!! It’s not all in the head, we can’t pray it away, we can’t get over it, and no, we don’t know when we are going to have a bad day. There are so many alternatives to traditional medication, but it takes time to find that right balance. Just like so many other health issues that plague the black community, I believe depression & anxiety should be right up there with diabetes and high blood pressure.