If there’s a book called The Care and Feeding of Your Depressed Friend, this should be a chapter. The following are taken directly from my experience. Unfortunately.
What not to say to someone who is depressed or bipolar:
- Snap out of it / get over it
Believe me, if I could, I would. In a heartbeat. Or less.
- You’re too sensitive
Maybe, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m struggling with an emotional disorder.
- Everyone gets depressed
Everyone can have situational depressions; far fewer have chemical depressions when nothing is wrong in their lives.
- What’s wrong? What do you have to be depressed about?
Nothing, and that’s the point. I endure terribly low depressions even when life is quite good.
- Stop whining. Nobody likes to be around someone who is sad/cries/complains all the time
Which is exactly why I don’t want to tell my friends or ask for support. And then it’s even harder to get better.
- Lighten up / you need to toughen up
Thicker skin will not change how I feel inside.
- Get over yourself already / Why is it always about you? / You’re just trying to get attention
There are far less painful ways to get attention, if that’s what I wanted. I withdraw and isolate because I don’t want attention. And it’s about me because this is what’s going on with me. This is my reality. Comments like this also contribute to my not wanting to ask for support.
- This again? Didn’t we go through this a month/year/whenever ago? / I’m not your therapist
That’s the problem with episodic, cycling depression, the problem with bipolar: it always comes back, no matter what I do. I can find tools to cope, control the worst of it with medication, but it will always be there. Many people are happy to help–once. But for those of us with cycling depression or bipolar once usually isn’t enough. I know that I may need extra support as often as 2-4 times a year. And when people ask, this again? it further reduces my willingness to ask for the support I need.
- It’s not Jewish to be depressed / It’s a mitzvah to be happy
Believe me, if I could, I would. I’d much rather be happy. But being happy is not one of the 613 mitzvot, and calling on G-d for help from the depths of despair seems to me to be exceptionally Jewish. Besides, where or when–ever–in our history were Jews always happy?
- You owe it to your family/husband/children to ignore this; they need you more than you need to be depressed / You could feel better if you only tried hard enough
Again, it’s not a choice. It’s not something I can ignore or put behind me. It’s not something I can control any more than someone can ignore their asthma or diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome. It is my reality and I have to work within it. And sometimes that means I have to take care of myself before I can take care of my family.
- I know what you mean / I’ve been depressed, too
I don’t know how to take this. Lots of people have had situational depression, feeling down because of a trauma, unemployment, death, financial problems, divorce, infertility, terminal diagnosis, war, etc. Far fewer really know what it’s like to have a chemical imbalance: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder. How do I know you really know what I mean? Until I do, I’m more likely to see this as patroizing, even if it’s entirely well-intentioned.
- This too, shall pass
Yes, that’s true. And I remind myself that in a few days or weeks or months, provided I don’t harm myself, it will eventually get better. But eventually doesn’t help me now. And now is when I need help.
- What can I do to help? ** See comments, please. I will be writing more about this.
This may be the most-asked question and the hardest to answer. If I’m already in a depression, I won’t know what you can do. I simply can’t think. It’s better to find a time when I’m stable and create a written plan for the next depression: this is what you can do, this is how you can help, this is what I need. Maybe it’s child care for a few hours or going to the grocery store for me or making some telephone calls or helping me to clean my kitchen or maybe it’s just sitting with me while I bawl my eyes out.
I know people who have done training in bikkur cholim, visiting the sick. One of the things they learned is not to ask, what can I do to help? because quite often the sick person doesn’t know.Instead, offer something you know you can do: run errands, babysit, cook a meal (beware of kashrut issues), help clean, visit, make phone calls, enlist other support, walk the dog, check out books from the library. Think about things you would want help with when you’re sick.
Finally, please be understanding. I may be too embarrassed for you to see my house after a week or more of depression where I can’t clean. I may not want to impose. When you offer to do something, I often see it as a trade, even if you don’t. You’ll do this for me and then when you need something, you’ll call in the favor. Of course, I would do everything I can for my friends, if I’m able. But I can’t guarantee when I’ll be able, and I dislike feeling that I owe someone something. So I may say no because I want to avoid the debt. If you offer, and if you mean it, make sure you offer with no strings attached.
- I know your plate is full, but can you help us with this / We could really use your help / I helped you when you were depressed, now it’s your turn
When I’m depressed, I can’t. I simply can not. And guilt trips will breed resentment. Besides, I self-guilt myself better than anyone else can. When I’m hypomanic, I will absolutely help, but at a cost, because I tend to overcommit when I’m hypomanic. And my emotional cycles work such that at the height of my hypomania, something insignificant will happen and trigger a crash. Within literally minutes, I can go from laughing extrovert to sobbing negative self-worth. I do my best to hide it. If I’m in public, I find a restroom and ride out the initial crash there. If you know I have a lot going on, please consider not asking me to do something more. Or ask me to do it when I’m in a better emotional state.