Depression can be a difficult subject to handle, even for those not suffering directly from it. Life Coach Rick Sharpe – a sufferer himself – offers his advice with 13 things not to say to a man suffering with depression
Three out of every four suicides in the UK in 2015 were men. It is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK. This problem has prompted some high profile people in the UK to “come out” about their struggles with depression and in a broader sense, the stigma around mental health. Alistair Campbell has been open about his complete psychotic breakdown in 1986 and the subsequent journey he’s endured and come to terms with since. His honest and open approach to his illness has sparked a more public discussion around how it affects partners and families as much as it can affect the individual.
The Royals also recently opened up about mental health issues. Harry talks about shutting down after his mother passed and how damaging that can be. Harry and William both acknowledge they did not open up enough after that tragic event in 1997. They have launched the Heads Together campaign in an effort to end the stigma surrounding mental health. Their recent film discussing mental health issues shows they are willing to take part in their own campaign to encourage families to have those conversations.
My wife and daughters – they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off.
When we look at the previously quoted statistics, the obvious question is why are men struggling so much with mental health. Our society has this mould for what a “man “ has to be. The breadwinner, the provider, the macho protector, the do-it-all / fix-it-all, etc. The expectations are many and the pressure to deliver on all fronts is high. No room for vulnerability, failure or emotions.
In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, she describes a gentleman who approached her one evening after a book event, expressing his view on a man’s predicament around shame: ‘… when we reach out and share our stories, we get the emotional shit beat out of us. My wife and daughters – they’d rather see me die on top of my white horse than watch me fall off.’
Some of the signs of depression can include any number of the following:
- Lack of energy
- Being irritable and frustrated over small things
- Outbursts of anger
- Loss of appetite and sleep problems
- Food cravings leading to weight gain
- Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable
- Feelings of sadness emptiness or hopelessness
- Aggressive and reckless behaviour
- Substance abuse
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Usually a combination of any of these symptoms and behaviours begin to result in behavioural changes, which adversely affect work, school, social interactions, and relationships with loved ones. It is important to educate ourselves in order to communicate in a manner which provides a safe haven for the depressive to open up about what their experiencing.
Part of that education is knowing what NOT to say to a man who is experiencing depression. Avoiding the following will help prevent a deeper plunge into depression, aggressive behavior or suicidal tendencies.
13 things NOT to say to a man who has depression
1. “Get yourself together”
Depression is not something you put a cast on and a few weeks later it’s healed. It’s a mental condition that is not a person’s fault yet this statement implies that it is and it would deepen the shame already associated with depression. A better approach is to ask the person if there is anything you can do for them or simply, “Are you OK?”
2. I get it. I’ve had bad days too
An attempt to build a connection but in reality it minimises the pain which a person is going through. It’s OK to say to admit you don’t know what they are going through but you will be there for them.
3. You need to get out more
Suggesting that getting out is a remedy for a particular situation actually aggravates it even more. Depressives avoid social situations. The additional judgment from others would further deepen their pain. A better approach would be to suggest staying in with the person and just being there for them. Do something you know they would enjoy.
4. You need to have a more positive attitude
This is a blameworthy statement that belittles a person’s condition. A positive attitude does not replace a meaningful approach to treatment and emotional management. Offering to listen while they share their feelings about being down opens a door to real communication.
5. You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself
A person will verbalise negative feelings in order to describe what they are thinking. This kind of statement makes it sound as if they are complaining about their situation. A more empathic approach to encourage communication is “Tell me more about how you’re feeling.” or “You really do sound down today. Tell me what that feels like for you.”
6. What have you got to be depressed about? You have everything a person could want. A caring wife, a wonderful family, a great job, a beautiful home
Depression is not a choice. It is a clinical condition, which often is not understood. This statement is unsupportive and alienating. A person may seem very successful on the outside but no one knows what’s happening on the inside. Suggesting that you are there for them if they want to talk is a more reassuring response. Ensure that you are available to them in the moment as well as anytime they feel a need to talk in future.
7. Hey. I was depressed for a bit when my father died but I got over it. You’ll get over this as well
Equating the passing of grief with depression is unwise and the comparison is demeaning. Try sharing some of things you did that helped you get to a better place. This may spark a conversation about what the person might like to do in order to address how they are feeling.
8. I heard the best thing you can do for depression is exercise. You should get a gym membership and that will sort you out
People in depressive states can find themselves in very dark places and the thought of getting out of bed some days can be an insurmountable exercise. Offer to go for a walk or ask for company to go to the corner store. An invitation for company can seem better than being alone.
9. You seem like you’d rather be alone. I’ll come back when you’re in a better mood
This is isolating and shows very little emotional awareness. You may be abandoning someone at the very time they most need company or conversation. Offer to stay and do something nice. Cheer them up with a favourite snack or kind gesture. Little things go a long way even though you might think there is no acknowledgement.
10. Everything is going to be fine
Such astatement is not based on anything tangible. A depressed person sometimes can’t see beyond the next hour much less the day when everything is going to be “fine”. Offer to do something that is meaningful. Something you know they would enjoy but have avoided recently. “Let’s go check out the new movie in town. My treat!”
11. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
Just because someone is surviving depression in the absence of death doesn’t mean they are growing stronger because of it. It’s a generalised statement that demeans a person’s struggle. Try something like “Hey. This must be very difficult for you. I’m here if you want to talk. Even if you don’t want to talk I’ll still be here. I just really care about you.”
12. We should catch up sometime
Connection and consistency is important to someone who is struggling. “Catch up sometime” infers you don’t really have the time and it’s a throw away statement that has no substance. Plan a time, a date or something definitive. “Let’s meet up tomorrow at noon. I’d really like to know how you’re doing.” or “I’d love to see you. It’s been a while. Tell me when you can make time for us to meet and I’ll be there.” This approach shows genuine interest and intent.
13. Why are you being such an introvert?
People struggling with depression also struggle to socialise. They can be faced with the choice of lying about their depression to hide their shame. They are not introverted; they just struggle getting out of the house most days and all the “drama” that entails once they are out the door. A different approach is to empathise with why they choose to stay home. Try something like “I see you don’t get out much. Can I drop by and spend some time with you.” or if you are a partner, “Let’s do something together at home this evening. Maybe tomorrow we can catch the local football match. Your favourite team is in town.” You are not being emotionally invasive of their choice to not venture out.
The most important goal is to build an emotional rapport that supports the individual and recognize that any path to open and honest communication can build a trust that can explore meaningful solutions to managing and moving beyond depression.
Today is World Mental Health Day If you need to talk to someone, call the Rethink Helpline on 0300 5000 927
Rick Sharpe realised later in life that bucket lists and passion were very important for a life lived, not observed. From the highs of climbing Kilimanjaro to the lows of a deeper emotional abyss and back again, what started out as a personal healing process turned into a transformational journey. Rick has trained to be a Master Life Coach and Emotional Intelligence and Mindfulness Facilitator. Read the book: The Price of Heartbreak: Healing is mindfully feeling