It may seem harmless, but this four-letter word is actually doing a lot of damage to a person living with depression.
Take a minute to think how it will feel if you were at the lowest mental state you could ever be. Removing yourself from your bed sheets to move your body feels like a mission as though you are climbing Kilimanjaro. Perhaps out of nowhere your heart stats skipping very fast your breath hitches in your throat and your lungs cannot get air. Ever had that feeling? This is how a person with depression feels in most cases.
Now picture your good friend with good intention tries to offer you some advice during this time, and saying something like “Why don’t you just work out? or “Just take a few deeps breaths and calm down”
That four let word may sound harmless, but it can actually pretty good damage. “Just” implies that whatever task or behavior- maybe, exercising or relaxing- you’re are suggesting that what they are going is easy and not complicated that they can do just about any task.
“For many people with anxiety and depressive disorders, everyday tasks that seem ‘simple’ to others can be very challenging.”
– ELIZABETH DUVAL, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
“For many people with anxiety and depression disorders, everyday tasks that seem ‘simple’ to others can be very challenging,” said Elizabeth Duval, a depression expert and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan.
“Anxiety and depression tend to be characterized by distressing internal experiences that are not always observable to others,” she added. “People with anxiety and depression can experience overwhelming and intense thoughts that consume their attention and make it difficult to focus on the task at hand.”
While focusing on one little word you seem like rubbing in the salt on their open wounds. The truth is phrases you use carry more weight than you might realise. This is very true when it comes to mental health, where conversations or casual terms can easily contribute to stigma.
“Language matters when we talk to other people about anything. It conveys how we think and feel about ideas and others,” said Victor Schwartz, chief medical officer of The Jed Foundation, a mental health organization. “We would not say you should ‘just’ get over a broken leg or a surgery.”
All of this isn’t to say that you should never offer advice, as a matter of truth, your support is crucial. There are just some better to put it. Below are some expert-backed suggestions on how to phrase your words instead:
“I know this is probably difficult, but what about … ”
It doesn’t have to be this exact phrasing, but try saying something that acknowledges how tough it can be to do certain tasks when you’re living with anxiety or depression.
“You need to start out slowly in addressing the things that are challenging and move along at a pace that is manageable,” Schwartz said. So, instead of asking, “Why don’t you just try exercising?” try suggesting that they go on a walk with you for a few minutes. Just make sure you’re involved.
“Offer to engage in positive and enjoyable activities with them ― invite them to go for a hike, go to the gym or watch a movie with you,” Duval said.
Whatever you do, try not to offer unsolicited guidance ― at least not without checking with your loved one first about what’s useful to them, said Amy Alexander, a psychiatrist at Stanford Health Care.
“If you feel like providing advice, it is helpful to ask first. [Try saying,] ‘I have some thoughts and suggestions, but I don’t know if that’s helpful for you now,’” Alexander said. “Some people may not want advice, and may want you to keep listening, and that is the way that you can be most helpful to them.”
“I care about you.”
Expressing your concern is always a great initial step.
“It always helps to let someone know that you care about them and that they are important to you,” said Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “Let them know that you are not running away and that you are there for them.”
“What can I do to help?”
Asking what you can do to help someone is always a great way to show a loved one you support them, Schwartz said.
But keep in mind that doesn’t just mean offering platitudes. Experts say it’s important to take action to help someone, especially if you think they’re in crisis. There’s a huge difference between saying “I’m here if you need me” in passing and actually showing up for them and asking “What can I do right now that will help you?”
“I really love ______ about you.”
Get specific. Tell your best friend that you love her dry sense of humor. Tell your brother you appreciate how he shows up for your parents.
“Remind them of what makes you feel connected with them, what you love about them,” Harkavy-Friedman said. “They may not understand what makes you want to be with them or care about them, depending on what they are experiencing. Stay present, patient and persistent.”
“There’s nothing wrong with getting treatment.”
This is worth repeating: There is absolutely nothing wrong or bad about getting help from a mental health professional. And it’s important to make that clear to someone, both as a way to alert them of their options but also to erase some of the stigma that comes with seeking support during depression is important.
“If someone with a mental health condition asks for help, offering to assist them with identifying or accessing treatment or other resources could be helpful,” Duval said. South African Depression and Anxiety Group are all great places to start.