The Worst Question you can Ask a Depressed Person is…



“Why are you depressed?”

It’s like asking someone why his/her eyes are blue.

Granted, an event, memory, interaction, etc can trigger a depressive episode, but WHY someone is depressed isn’t answerable unless you want a confusing, multifactorial, circular flow chart as a response. Genetics, family, diet, hormonal imbalance, environment,  job, sleep habits, full moon, have-you-met-my-grandfather… you get my point.  The closest correct answer I can come up with is, “I just am.”  

If someone tells you he/she is feeling depressed, the best thing to say is, “I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do to help?”   Or something like that.

There might be nothing the depressed person wants you to do or say. The depressed person may just want you to be there. When I have my depressed moments, I hate having conversations. Hate it. Though often times I prefer to be alone while the storm in my brain passes,  there are moments when I desire both silence and the simple pleasure of having someone’s presence near me.

The worst thing someone can do, at least to me, is to begin analyzing why I’m depressed with that query, “Why are you depressed?” and THEN explaining to me why I shouldn’t be depressed. “You have everything going for you, you have this, you have that, there are people with no legs… there are people starving in Africa…there are midgets being shot from cannons, etc, etc, etc.”  Even worse is giving me pop-psychology, just-roll-up-your-sleeves pearls of wisdom: “Go for a run, just go out with your friends already, just go to work and don’t worry about it…”  That sort of talk  just makes me feel guilty, apologetic and eventually angry enough to shoot a midget from a cannon myself. ( No, not really.) But I will withdraw more and more and make a mental note to never again reveal my depressed state to that person. In other words, that type of analysis serves to isolate and fuel the stigma against people experiencing depression.

Maybe people feel uncomfortable being together without having a conversation. Maybe people feel uncomfortable sitting in silence with someone.  I personally love that feeling. Superfluous, unnecessary conversations rooted in nervous energy and societal pressure are annoying to me even when I’m not feeling depressed.  Sharing silence with an empathic, understanding friend who doesn’t judge and simply notices… that’s golden.


2 Responses to “The Worst Question you can Ask a Depressed Person is…”

  1. “…there are moments when I desire both silence and the simple pleasure of having someone’s presence near me….” Yes, Erin, so well put. As someone who suffers from chronic dysthymia and occasionally acute depression, how much I appreciate the silent company a companion can offer.

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