Monday, March 4, 2013

Top 8 things NOT to say to someone with depression, The Catholic Version

{Photo taken by Me:)}
A while back, CBS News posted this nice little piece about what to say and not say to someone with depression.

Since I've struggled with depression for some time now, I’ve compiled my own list of 8 things that are really difficult for me to hear.  If you know someone struggling with a mental illness, think twice about what you say and the advice you give.

8. “Pray about it.”
It is likely that the person struggling with depression IS praying about it, and praying very hard for that matter.  In the past, I have felt like my depression was the result of not praying enough.  I thought that I was suffering because I was a bad Catholic.  I thought I was being punished for my lazy prayer life.  I realize now that those thoughts were not from God.  While it is still very important to pray for healing from depression, there are additional things you can do to get help.  If someone breaks his leg, would you tell him to pray about it instead of going to see a doctor?  NO, you would most likely advise them to go and get a cast put on.

*Instead, you can say, “I will pray for you”.

7. “Offer it up.”
If you were born and raised Catholic, your parents might have used this one to get you to stop complaining.  Let me be clear; it is very good to offer up your sufferings and unite them to Christ’s sufferings.  However, a person struggling with depression often needs to talk things through with a loved one or trusted friend.  It may seem like the person is complaining about what he or she is going through.  But, when a person has depression, the mind is often polluted with dangerous thoughts.  By talking about the problems out loud to another person who has a sound mind, the depressed person can find solace and peace.

*Instead, you can say, “Right now, I have to go.  But, we can meet later today and we can talk all you want”.

6. “Read about St. John of the Cross or St. Theresa of Avila.”
The communion of saints is a very powerful force and can greatly help us in life.  I invoke the Saints on a regular basis.  Reading about saints who went through terrible dark nights of the soul, however, can be even more depressing at times.  Those Saints, who experienced the dark night of the soul, or deep dark depression, had been given special graces by God.  They worked with those graces to remain close to God and, ultimately, achieved the highest honor of sainthood.  One of those supernatural graces is Hope.  Hope is the greatest remedy for depression.  If there was no hope, than suicide would be the only remedy.  If a person struggling with depression reads about a saint who struggled for 50 years (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta) without receiving the same supernatural graces, that person can feel very hopeless.  Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have enough to make it through the day, let alone 50 years!  It is important to keep a certain perspective when reading about the saints.  Their lives and their witnesses are intended to inspire us to do good and holy actions.  The best way to imitate the saints is to live for God one day at a time, and sometimes, one moment at a time.

*Instead, you can say, “Even though it may feel like it, God will never abandon you and neither will I”.

5. “Talk to a Priest.”
While it is good to talk to your parish priest about spiritual battles and such, the priest should not replace a counselor or therapist.  Just as true, your counselor cannot replace a priest.  You need both in your life.  Confession is just as important as seeking Godly counsel.  Most priests will even advise you to see a counselor if they feel inadequately equipped to help you with your problems.  There are excellent counselors out there, even devout Catholic ones, as well.  It is important to note that bad counseling can be worse than no counseling.  So pick you mentors wisely.

*Instead, you can say, “I will help you find a good counselor whom you trust”.

4. “Think of the starving children in Africa.”
Therese Borchard of Beyond Blue said it best:
“Forget about Congo and Bangladesh when talking to a depressed loved one. Some people absolutely do have it worse. But that doesn’t make her pain any less real or profound. Chances are if you do bring it up, she will also feel weak and pathetic … like she has no right to feel the way she’s feeling, which will, of course, make her feel worse.”

Helping others and volunteering is a good way to combat depression.  However, saying that to someone with depression will only cause them to feel terrible.  They will not only feel like a worthless failure, but now they will feel like a lazy, self-centered heathen.

*Instead, you can say, “I am going to the soup kitchen next weekend, would you like to come with me?”
3. “If you would do ______, you would be less depressed”.
Everyone has a different life.  Everyone has a different story.  What works for some people, will not work for others.

*Instead, you can say, “I read that ­­­_____ can help with depression, would you like to give it a try?”

2. “Do you WANT to get better?”
Do you want to get over this or do you just want to wallow in self-pity and despair?  I am going to quote Therese again on this one:
“This was my very favorite. Because it suggests that we can will ourselves to be as happy as we want. Want to be a little more giddy? Let me just adjust the optimism lever a tad. There we go … happy again! [You do have] to watch your thoughts, retrain them and retrain them, applying tools for optimism. But I don’t think we can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps without any help every time. Please don’t make the person feel like a failure in addition to depressed.”

*Instead, you can say, “You are doing a great job and have come a long way already, don’t give up”.

1. “You have everything you need to get better.”
One more time, Ms. Borchard: (Okay, maybe I only had 5 things until I read her post)
“This, of course, implies that all pharmaceutics are toxins that do nothing more than dull your emotions. Some forms of modern medicine actually aid recovery. [It’s] kind of like chemotherapy for cancer patients, and insulin for diabetes. Would you tell a woman with breast cancer she has everything she needs to get better?”

*Instead, you can say, “Do what you need to do to take care of yourself”.


  1. I can see how those phrases wouldn't work for everybody. However, I would suggest first praying to the Holy Spirit for guidance when talking to anyone, in this case, someone with depression. That way if you're truly guided by the Holy Spirit what you say will be the right thing. It may not be received at first, but with time those inspired words will ring true.

    1. I agree 100%. Whenever I don't know what to do or say, I always try to pray to the Holy Spirit. Even if I do say the wrong thing, hopefully, God will bring some Good out of the situation.