What not to say to someone suffering from depression

Dear Editor,

I am currently counselling a young woman who is suffering from major depression, and I’m writing this letter to warn parents, families, employers, and friends to be careful of what they say to a depressed person or that person may end up taking his/her own life.

Editor, there are different types of depressive disorders. The symptoms can range from relatively minor (but still disabling) through to very severe, so it’s helpful to be aware of the range of conditions and their specific symptoms.

My patient has been diagnosed by a psychiatrist with major (severe) depression, which is sometimes called major depressive disorder, clinical depression, unipolar depression or simply ‘depression.’ It involves low mood and/or loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities. The symptoms are experienced most days and last for at least two weeks. The symptoms of depression interfere with all areas of a person’s life, including work and social relationships. Depression can be described as mild, moderate or severe.

My patient loss her job, her friends and her will to live as a result of the depression. The worst thing about depression is that those who are closest to the depressed person, including families and friends, don’t understand how to help the person, which makes them even more depressed and feeling all alone. And the depression festers even more when the person feels alone.

There’s no way to describe the terrible darkness of depression in a way that non-depressed people can understand. Editor, most families and friends don’t understand severe depression and so they say the wrong things to the depressed person.

What not to say to a depressed person:

  1. It’s all in your head. You need to think positive.
  2. You need to get out of yourself and give back to the community.
  3. Why don’t you try and exercise?
  4. Eat healthier food and you will feel better.
  5. Meditation and yoga are all you need.
  6. Get a new job.
  7. All you need is a good man/woman.
  8. You have everything you need to get better.
  9. Do you want to feel better?
  10. Everyone has problems.

One of the mistakes families of the depressed person makes is not getting the person professional counselling, because they don’t want the depressed person and the family’s name to be stigmatized by society. As a consequence, the depressed person continues to live without mental health treatment, which may lead to further mental breakdown. Currently, the young lady is not getting the full treatment for her depression, and I am afraid if she doesn’t get professional help her condition will deteriorate.

She attempted suicide once before. Despite the fact that her parents asked me to help her, they don’t listen to me when I tell them she needs more professional help. They are afraid of the lack of confidentiality among the mental health professional services in Guyana.

Editor, I am writing this letter because I am deeply concerned about this young lady and I feel as though my hands are tied. I can’t convince the parents that their child is in a critical situation. I feel helpless and hopeless.

Editor, l hope someone who is reading this letter and knows someone who is depressed will take heed of the things I have written and try to help that person by watching what they say to them.  As I write this letter, my patient is still focused on the darkness instead of a joyful place.


Yours faithfully,

Anthony Pantlitz

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