Don't Tell Them to Try Harder

Sometimes we may think that encouraging the person to try more or giving them a little “tough love” might be motivating.

This can be problematic in many ways. A person with depression can’t just will themselves out of it, as it is a complex disease with many biological, environmental, and social factors at play.

The person with depression may be trying as much as they can, and those types of comment can be quite demoralizing.


INSTEAD: Express that you see they’re in pain, and offer to help.

Don't Oversimplify

You may feel as if expressions such as “Smile” or “Everyone feels sad sometimes” are well-meaning, however, they can be minimize the experience of the person living with depression.

Someone with depression can’t force themselves to feel happy. Telling them to smile or believing that they are just like “everyone” with normal sadness may make them feel like you’re making their symptoms to be less serious or legitimate than they are.


INSTEAD: Tell them that you understand that they’re experiencing a lot right now and you’d like to better understand what they’re going through.

Don't Express Disbelief

How a person appears on the outside does not necessarily reflect how they feel on the inside. Many people living with depression hide what they’re truly feeling for many reasons, ranging from feeling embarrassed or guilty about what would happen if someone found out about their depression, to fear of being perceived as incompetent as an employee or co-worker. Additionally, a person may have “everything” – such as a steady job, a family and home etc., and still be depressed. Depression doesn’t discriminate.


If a person discloses their depression, don’t use expressions such as “Wow, you don’t look depressed,” or “You don’t look sad” or “How can you be depressed when you have so much?” Some folks oversimplify in more subtle ways as well- such as if the depressed person is smiling, you may think they’re “all better” or feeling great. 1. Depression doesn’t discriminate, and 2. Don’t ever assume until you ask how the person is doing.

Don't Dismiss Their Pain

Similar to oversimplifying, don’t dismiss the person’s pain. Expressions such as “It could be worse” or comparing the person’s depression to someone else who “had it worse” may be a way for you to show them that because they may appear to not feel that badly compared to someone else, they’ll be OK. In fact, these comments may create some kind of competition for who feels worse, and may make the person feel that their pain is being minimized.

Don't Shame

It may seem, at times, like someone who is depressed is very preoccupied with their own life/thoughts, but that doesn’t make them selfish. It is difficult to think about anything other than getting by day-to-day when in the midst of a depressive episode. Avoid statements like, “You only think about yourself,” and “Other people have problems, too.”


Implying that a person with depression doesn’t care about others fuels more guilt, sadness, and shame. People who experience depression still care about others.

Don't Ignore Them

A person with depression is likely to feel lonely and sad quite often. They may isolate and avoid social situations because they may have difficulty carrying a conversation, they may be nervous about not being near comforting places such as their home, or may not want others to “find out” they’re depressed, etc. However, it is important to continue to keep in touch with them, invite them to events, etc. to show you care. 

Additionally, some people who know someone with severe depression may be afraid of what to do during a crisis. Make sure to familiarize yourself with ‘How to Help Someone in Crisis,” and talk openly with your friend/family member/co-worker etc. about what they prefer to do in case of crisis.

SOURCE: The Worst Things to Say to Someone Who Is Depressed, Reviewed by Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS