“My silence means I am tired of fighting…”
-Aarti Khurana

In many of my previous posts, I’ve talked about mental illness and depression because it’s a subject that is very personal to me for obvious reasons. However, one topic I have not addressed in detail is for the outsider looking in.

If you’ve never had a mental illness or never known someone close to you who does, the reaction you might have may not always be appropriate. Dealing with an actual mental illness is very different from trying to cheer someone up who is simply in a bad mood.

With that in mind, here are some tips of what NOT to do when interacting with someone depression or any other kind of mental illness.

  • Never think you can cheer someone up by engaging in a “happy” activity such as watching a sitcom or telling jokes. Much like diabetes, blood pressure complications or having a fever, depression is a result of a chemical imbalance. The same way that your blood sugar goes too high or too low, depression occurs most often when levels of neurotransmitters go down. When that happens, one cannot simply “think themselves” out of it in the same manner that one cannot produce insulin simply by smiling.
  • Never assume that a person is fine just because they look fine. Nobody expects you to be a mind reader or a psychology expert (if that’s not your profession). That said, if a person ever confesses to you that they’re depressed, don’t assume they’re fine at the moment because they’re not crying or they’re speaking in a calm tone. Instead, before saying anything else, ask them how they’re feeling right now. Also keep in mind that for all it’s openness in the 21st century, mental illnesses still carry a stigma. It may not be as big as it once was but it’s there and even in this day and age, it burdens a lot of people to hide their mental state out of fear.
  • Never think a person with depression is being selfish and not thinking about anyone but themselves. This is an unfortunate misconception that I’ve had to battle with among my family members who just don’t understand how depression works. When neurotransmitters are low, the mind tends to have tunnel vision. It doesn’t mean that depressed people don’t care about others. It means that at that particular moment, they simply can’t because the wave of emotions that they’re experiencing is too strong to let anything interrupt that wave. If you try to disrupt that wave forcefully, it can actually make things much worse.
  • Never ask someone “What are YOU depressed about? You have a good life.” Depression doesn’t always have an ostensible trigger. In many cases, the person with depression won’t know themselves what’s bothering them until talking to the right person. Although depression can often be triggered by a traumatic experience, it’s certainly not always the case. Sometimes, minor glitches can add up to one big glitch that finally becomes too much. Or it may be an experience that was suppressed many years ago that is just now resurfacing. The reasons for depression are unique to every individual and should never be concluded with what seems logical.

The list is certainly not limited to the points made above but these are the points which are most often prove to be highly inefficient and in some cases, even hazardous. The best way to avoid such conflicts is by simply asking the person how they feel and what you might do (within reason, of course) to help them. When you open up a line of communication rather than trying to control it’s direction, a depressed person is much more likely to cooperate and hence, lead to a more operative scenario.

Do you struggle with depression or any mental illness? If so, what is one thing you would like to tell someone that doesn’t struggle with it or doesn’t understand it? What techniques work for you the best? Share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below on our secure servers.

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