Mormons are known to be a positive and happy people, and have a remarkable capacity to remain hopeful despite life’s hardships and setbacks. We also strive to share this positivity with other people around us, especially those who are experiencing hard times. However, this positivity may cause more harm than good when we are consoling people with depression.
People with depression, diagnosed or not, experience more than just sadness or emotional distress. They are experiencing a medical condition that is out of their control, and that they did nothing to cause. The saying, “Happiness is a choice” may not ring true for them at all, as it does for others. Sometimes, even after putting their entire mind and will into it, happiness still seems impossible. Knowing this, let’s avoid saying the following phrases the next time we console someone battling depression.
It’s just a bad day. Tomorrow will be a fresh start. For people battling depression this is not true at all, because what they are experiencing does not last only one day. For them, feelings of sadness, despair, hopelessness, and loss of interest can last for days, or even weeks. Some of them might not even be looking forward to tomorrow. This phrase can make them feel that nobody really understands their condition.
If they are having a bad day, we can invite them to do something they are usually interested in—exercise, watch a movie, play some sports, take a walk, or anything that will help them get their minds off what they currently feel. But we should not expect them to cheer up right away. Often, relief comes gradually, and on some occasions, they might not cheer up at all. But we should keep inviting them to activities anyway. This will keep them from being alone and doing things alone.
On the other hand, we must also respect their choices and understand that there are days that are more difficult than most. Try to strike a balance between friendship and personal space.
You should pray more and trust that Jesus Christ will help you. With the hardship that they are experiencing, they have probably already prayed earnestly to God to take the burden from their shoulders and to take the negative emotions away, even just for a little while. They might have already poured their hearts out many times to God, seeking comfort and strength, so saying this phrase to them might not be as helpful as it may sound. It may in fact make them feel more hopeless, wondering if they are doing something wrong, and why God has not answered their prayers and taken the trial away. We must understand that having depression does not equate to being spiritually weak or not being close enough to God. Depression certainly is not an indicator of one’s faithfulness.
Instead, we should always be there for them and become God’s instrument in helping them feel that they are not alone. We can accompany them to doctor’s appointments, counselling sessions, and other activities that might be helpful.
Others have it worse than you. Be grateful and count your blessings. The severity of peoples’ challenges and the impact these challenges have on their lives are different. Two people may be going through depression but their circumstances, personal and past experiences, support system, and access to professional advice may be different. So we cannot simply judge who is having it worse. This phrase will only trigger guilt in them and will make them feel ungrateful.
Instead, help them see the possibilities in life despite their condition—their capacity to serve, love, and become a blessing to others. This can enlarge their perspective, and help them see that their lives are not limited to the confinement of depression.
The willpower it takes to live a life in which you cannot simply choose to be happy is much greater than you might imagine. So ours is a divine calling to be kinder, more genuine, more understanding, and become more available to those battling depression one considerate word at a time.