This is a deeply personal post as well as one that I am sure a lot of people can relate to, so I decided to make it public, in the hopes of spreading awareness through it.
Depression and anxiety are illnesses that are crippling and oppressing, that follow you anywhere you go, and that will, even if you think they might have left you, lurk around the next corner just to jump out at you when you least expect and need it. In many cases neither are conditions that can be fully healed, but you can learn to deal with them, how to live your life without letting them drive you to a point of no return. A huge part of getting there is having an environment that accepts you and your issues, and that offers the right support. However, not all support that is well-meant will actually come off as such. Often people will say things because they want to help, but what they say, and sometimes how they say it, will achieve the opposite. If you want to understand what you should and should not say to a person suffering from depression and/or anxiety and why, simply keep reading.
Don'ts(all examples have either happened to me personally or friends of mine, so if you have a hard time believing some of them are real...sadly they are)
"Just don't think about it!"
So easily said, with no negative thoughts in mind, yet so offensive at the same time. You have to realize that particularly if you are forced to live with anxiety you cannot
simply stop thinking about whatever is bothering you, whatever is keeping you up all night, whatever makes you feel like your chest will explode because it's just all too much. So do you really think someone who is suffering didn't consider 'not thinking about it'? All you will achieve with this 'pearl of wisdom' is to make them think you consider them too naive and stupid to have thought of this magical solution.
"What you're worrying about really isn't that important anyway."
That one tends to leave me speechless. It's not impossible to see where you are coming from and why you think this might be helpful, but do not ever
say this. Who are you
to decide what is important and what is not in someone else's life? Do not ever belittle someone else's fears and doubts. For the most part they will be fully aware that some of their worries are irrational, but you pointing it out does nothing to help. This ties in directly with the previous point. Being aware of the issue and its size will not magically make it go away.
"Some people have it worse than you."
Once again, don't try to downplay someone else's problems. Yes, maybe there are people who have it worse somewhere else, it's even very likely, but that does in no way lessen the worries/fears/doubts/anxieties at hand. No one will think 'oh, that's true, his/her problem is thrice as bad as mine, now I feel so much better
'. You cannot cure one condition by pointing out another and telling them to be happy they do not suffer from that one as well. That is simply not how it works.
"Have you ever tried...not being sad?"
No comment or explanation needed. Just think about how dumb this question actually is, and then stay as far away from it as possible.
"But you are rich; how can you be sad when you have so much?"
Money does not buy happiness. Whoever thought it could is an idiot, plain and simple. Being wealthy might help you get treatment with less trouble, but if you are truly depressed no material possession will ever be able to diminish it.
At the same time, be careful with the opposite end of the scale. If someone is depressed and poor on top of it, having to add paying their bills to a whole pile of worries, don't go saying things like:
"You don't need money to be happy."
If you don't even have enough money to buy food or pay your rent...you sure as hell won't be puking rainbows.
"What I did was [enter random advice], I'm sure it will help!"
First of all: Don't give advice unless it has been asked for. You don't go dumping on someone else's art either, even if it is well-meant, if they did not actually ask for critique. (Yes, we do all realize that this is the internet and that there will always be people ignoring that, simply barfing their unabridged thoughts all over the place, but just try not to be part of them, alright?) And the same goes for someone making a statement about their mental health. There's a good chance they just needed to vent, so unless they specifically ask for your advice, don't give it, especially
if it is someone you hardly know.
Secondly: You cannot know what someone has already tried, so hearing the same advice over and over again can get incredibly tiring and chances are you will create annoyance rather than a breakthrough.
Thirdly: You are not a mental health professional. Don't act like one. Just because you might have been through something similar, you cannot and will not know what someone else needs unless you know literally everything they have been through.
"Last week my puppy was sick and I was so sad; I totally know what you're going through."
No, you don't. Sporadic sadness because of an obviously negative event is not even remotely comparable to years and years of depression. In particular since reasons for depression are often profoundly buried and very vague, which makes it all the harder to get rid of. Crying once because you did not do as well on an exam as you would have expected is not the same as crying every single day or night without even knowing why. It is not the same as wanting to never get out of bed anymore, no matter how far your hygiene is declining and how much your back is starting to hurt.
"You have to cheer up or no one will wanna stay your friend."
Unless you want someone to think you will leave them just because they are incurably ill, do not ever go there. Or would you walk up to a friend suffering from cancer and say 'hey, stop having cancer or no one will want to be around you
'? Mental illness is just as real as the physical kind, and neither can be cured with the snap of a finger.
"If you currently can't do anything about issue XY anyway, then why don't you just stop worrying about it?"
Is it really that hard to grasp that the feeling of helplessness and lack of control can actually be a thousand times worse than the thing one is worrying about in the first place? Yes, it really can be and often is. And then we are even already back at the first point mentioned. You cannot
'just stop worrying'.
It is impossible to establish a list of positive things to say that will be well received by absolutely everybody suffering from depression and/or anxiety since no one is exactly alike, but there are a few that stay relatively safe.
"I'm there for you."
Sometimes that's really all someone needs to know.
"If you want to talk, I'm available."
Just that. Let them know you have an open ear, but let them be the one to approach you if they feel they need it. No pushing.
"I love you."
They aren't magical words that will instantly heal mental illness, but they are always a good reminder if they come from friends, family or a partner.
"Hey, here's a random fact..."
This might not work on everyone but getting random positive distraction is often the most useful thing you can do for someone who is currently in a bad place. Five minutes reading something random, and possibly funny, are five minutes less spent worrying.
Please feel free to share your personal experiences in the comments and/or add any points that are important to you personally!