Depression affects so many of us, yet still too many people think it's just "all in our heads." And they're right, it is -- but it's an illness that affects people through their thoughts, their feelings, in such a dark way it's difficult to describe.
What you may not realize is that trying to have an open conversation, especially about their life, aspirations and motivations, can be extremely difficult. It can leave them without the proper words to start the discussion and by the end of it, they're feeling drained and sometimes confused or upset.
It's a delicate situation.
As someone who has had depression for years, I have been in several situations where I've tried to exchange words with someone who clearly didn't understand how to talk with me when I was in one of my "down" days; it was both unproductive for them and harmful to me.
And since each person with depression reacts differently, let me tell you from personal experience, what family shouldn't say to someone with the illness.
From one depressed adult to a non-depressed adult.
1. Don't tell them you understand what they're going through: Unless you suffer from depression yourself. This will automatically close any channel you were hoping to open for a conversation. Immediately they'll scoff, or maybe roll their eyes but they will most definitely think, "You have no idea" unless they know with certainty that you've been down a similar road.
You're trying to empathize, and that in itself is great! But saying "I know what you're going through" or "I understand where you're coming from" can come off as patronizing and dismissive.
2. Don't tell them to suck it up: That's pretty much the opposite of being empathetic. They may also be expecting you to say this to them, and as much as they wish they could, depression doesn't run work via an on or off switch.
Keep in mind depression isn't a choice, it's an illness.
3. Don't remind them of their past "failures": Many people think by pointing out flaws that this will motivate a person to correct past issues. From my experience, this couldn't be further from the truth. You're not informing them of anything they haven't thought about a thousand times until their brain starts to physically hurt. Trust me on this.
What you are doing is enforcing this belief -- whether it's true or not and I'm hoping you don't think it is -- that they're nothing but a failure. See how this is counterproductive to motivating your family member?
4. Don't insult them: This sounds obvious -- and I'm very much hoping that it is -- but insults can slip out without you noticing, or even meaning for it to happen.
What's the one thing not to say that you may think is motivating, but isn't at all? Calling a person lazy.
No ifs, ands or buts about it. It's an automatic trigger, insult, and personal stab in the gut -- this is from all too personal experience.
5. Don't make the talk all about you: You're trying to foster a sort of communication between you two, right? Many people, especially myself, have a hard time opening up and discussing my thoughts or feelings. It's automatic to let the other person talk just so I don't have to.
Too many times someone will talk about their hardships and attempt to compare it to their depressed family member's experiences. Don't do that. Don't compare.
It's supposed to be a discussion not a "who has it worse" battle, because that never ends well.
6. Don't dismiss what they do have to say: Don't listen just because you're waiting to add another one of your points you just remembered. Listen for the sole purpose of listening to everything they're trying to tell you. Chances are, they already think you won't believe what they're saying. By jumping in without responding or giving feedback to what they just told you can solidify that belief. Neither of you want that.
This list should provide you ways to go about opening up a discussion with a family member or friend suffering from depression. Ways to motivate them without harming their mental health.
But keep in mind, it's not your job to light a fire under them. What would benefit them more is to actively listen to them, listen to their problems, and find a way for the two of you to work through it in a manner that can empower and motivate them.
Talk with them and not to them, and you'll be on your way to a positive discussion!
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