“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will make me go cry by myself for hours in a corner.”

Language can have a big impact on how someone feels about their mental health condition or recovery process. People prefer different terms and phrases to talk about their mental health that makes them feel empowered to seek support and that bring hope that things will get better.

On the flip side, here’s what not to say and why:

 “Cheer up.”

 While telling someone to cheer up is okay in some contexts, depression is not one of them. Depression isn’t just feeling sad and isn’t something someone can flick on and off. By telling someone to just ‘cheer up’ or ‘snap out it’ it can sound like you don’t take what they are going through seriously. 

“Snap out of it.”

People experiencing depression can often feel irritable, frustrated and just generally unhappy so treating someone like they are at fault will not only anger them but could make them feel guilty for not being a good friend or for bringing down the mood – something they often can’t control. This could lead to them isolating themselves from people even more and becoming more miserable.

“It’s all in your head.”

Reducing the issue down to just one body part might sound like a good way to help someone feel like they can manage it easier but it’s just not true. Depression can affect your whole self and includes many physical symptoms such as feeling tired all the time, headaches and muscle pains, a churning gut, sleep problems and a loss or change of appetite.

“You don’t look depressed.”

Anyone can experience depression and there’s nothing out there saying that you have to look depressed to be living with it. Sometimes it can be when things are going really well in your life and someone making comments about how they look fine or have ‘no reason’ to be depressed is not going to encourage them to seek support if people ‘won’t believe them’.

“What’s wrong with you.”

This is unfair and unreasonable especially as mental health conditions don’t discriminate, they can affect anyone at any time in their life. If anything, it will make that person feel worse for feeling this way and like there’s something wrong with them when it is beyond their control.

If you think before you speak and separate the person from their condition, there is more opportunity to have an open and honest conversation with productive and positive help-seeking language. Get some more tips on how to check in with someone. 

Related reading: Know the signs and symptoms of depression

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