When someone you care about is depressed, it can be difficult to know what to say. Even with the best intentions, friends and family can often say the wrong thing, which can make the depressed person feel misunderstood and even more isolated.

If you’ve never suffered from depression, you likely do not know what is appropriate and what isn’t when talking to someone who is suffering with depression.

Here are three things you should never say to someone struggling with depression.

Pretend To Understand (When You Don’t)

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Don’t tell someone with depression you understand how they feel if you really don’t.

One of the worst things you can say to someone who is depressed is, “I completely understand. After [insert specific event] I was depressed for weeks.”

Grief and depression are two entirely different things. Feeling sad after the loss of a pet or being laid off from your job is expected. These feelings aren’t chronic. They are expected after an isolated incident.

Depression is chronic and usually isn’t associated with one specific incident. Clinical depression can last for years and people who suffer from depression often can’t pinpoint a reason they’re feeling depressed – which further fuels feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Unless you have truly experienced depression, don’t tell your loved one that you understand. Even though you may want to, you simply don’t.

Pretend to be Dr. Google

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Don’t try to be Dr Google and tell someone with depression “You just need some exercise!”

Even well-researched and thoughtful articles in the topic of depression can’t possibly paint a full picture or provide the best course of treatment for depression. Everyone is unique. Therefore everyone’s depression is unique. How one person experiences depression may be completely different from the next. And all treatment needs to be unique to the person.

Just because your co-worker took the latest and greatest herbal supplement on Amazon, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your friend or loved one.

Maybe you read that exercise helps improve symptoms of depression. But while exercise can release powerful those “feel-good” hormones, exercise alone will not cure clinical depression. Also, by giving this kind of quick-fix advice, you risk coming across as patronizing and may make them feel as though they aren’t trying hard enough to “get better.”

Pretend to be a travel agent

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Don’t tell someone who’s depressed they “just need a vacation.”

“Maybe you just need a vacation or some time off!”

If you’ve never suffered from depression, it’s easy to confuse it with stress. However, the two couldn’t be more different. Telling a depressed person they just need to relax more is like telling a paraplegic they just need a new pair of shoes. Neither solution gets to the root cause of the issue.

When you love someone who is depressed, you want to help in any way you can. But offering advice or suggestions when you are unclear of what exactly they are experiencing isn’t helpful. The best thing you can do is educate yourself on depression so you may better understand what your loved one is truly going through. The second best thing you can do is truly listen with the intent to understand.

Everyone wants to feel heard and understood, especially someone struggling with depression.

It may be a good idea to encourage your loved one to seek professional help. A skilled therapist will be able to help your loved one understand what is happening to them and guide them through the journey back to health.


James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists take control and move From Surviving to Thriving.