Things not to say to someone with anxiety or depression

As many of my close friends and family know, I have dysthymia (mild chronic depression) and generalized anxiety. That means I am regularly sad and inactive but also prone to overthinking and panic. This often results in sulking about in pajamas and also constantly wanting to scream. Not feeling able to do things while panicking that you aren’t doing things is a horrible combination. And yet some people don’t seem to understand that this is not a choice on my part, but a mental illness that I fight every day. Even if you mean well, here are a couple things that we should phase out of our discussions with people who have depression or anxiety.

“Are you gonna do anything today?/Just having a lazy day, huh?

You know, I’ve been constantly worrying about all the stuff that I need to do since I opened my eyes this morning and honestly it has left me paralyzed, so please don’t make me feel worse than I already feel. Some mornings I literally can’t get out of bed because the weight of everything is crushing me, so just be happy that I am moving and eating. This does not make me lazy. I have a mental illness that causes me to not be able to function sometimes.

“Have you checked out *insert job opening*/You really need to start making money”

I am fully aware that I am unemployed, thank you. I am also fully aware that there are plenty of ways for me to make money, what awe inspiring news! But there’s a monkey on my back that tells me, “You’re not good at anything,” and, “You’ll get fired if you try.” Please excuse me if I’m not jumping at the offer. I’m also aware that my illness is going to make certain jobs more difficult for me.

“Come on! You’re not even trying!”

If someone tells you they are not ready for something, DON’T PUSH IT. If you push someone to do something they are not mentally ready to do, the consequences aren’t great. That could mean panic attacks, tears, mental breakdowns, loss of trust, or complete shut down. Take a deep breath and walk away.

“Cheer up!”

You might think you’re doing me a favor by telling me this one, but trust me, nothing will get you a swifter kick in the groin than telling me to “cheer up.” If anyone with depression could simply “cheer up” then none of us would have this problem would we? That is like telling a person who is paralyzed to “just walk.” The thing about our condition is, we literally. cannot. do. that. No matter how many times you try to “think positively,” there is still a chemical imbalance that makes those thoughts get overpowered by a thousand negative ones. Being happy is not a choice for us, it is a battle.

“Calm down”

I was fine before you said this, now I’m upset. Just like depression is an illness that prevents you from being able to “cheer up,” anxiety is an illness that prevents you from being able to “calm down.” It feels like the world is crashing down on me sometimes, and you telling me to “calm down” is only making me feel like I should be more in control of feelings I literally cannot control. You wouldn’t tell someone who just found out that we are going to get hit by a meteor to calm down would you? Of course not. If that was going to happen, we’d all be screaming. Well, that’s what anxiety feels like. Only the meteor is in your mind and it never hits. It’s always a few feet away, hurdling towards you, never stopping, and never reaching.

“You should change your shirt/shoes/pants”

A super fun part of depression is feeling like your existence doesn’t matter. When you feel like no one would miss you if you were gone, it seems rather pointless to put any effort into your appearance or hygiene.

“You’re overreacting/You’re too emotional/You’re too sensitive”

Those are literally symptoms/descriptions of me and my illness.

“You’re crazy!”

Yes, I have a mental illness. It’s not that great to have someone call you crazy, though, and it’s definitely not helping me cope with anything better.

“Socializing isn’t that hard!” “Come on, just come with us! It’s just a party!”
Social anxiety is a powerful fear of judgment from others that makes me avoid people altogether sometimes so yes, it is that hard. Parties are my nightmare, and my brain convinces me everyday that people hate me; you telling me otherwise doesn’t change that.

Sarah Baxter is a 23 year-old actor, blogger, singer/songwriter, and Psychology/Sociology graduate who lives in Sterling, Il.  You can follow her personality psychology blog at or follow her on Twitter@realsarahbaxter

[Image via Shutterstock]

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