What not to say to a mother fighting depression
We are now living at a time when more people are acknowledging the reality of depression as a legitimate sickness. However, we’re still a long way from being mindful about the finer points of being depressed.
A mother fighting depression is under pressure to perform well as a mother and under pressure to take care of herself. But she doesn’t have to be alone.
We are now living at a time when more people are acknowledging the reality of depression as a legitimate sickness. However, we’re still a long way from being mindful about the finer points of the illness.
Sometimes, we want to help, but we don’t know how. It’s not our fault and it’s not their fault. Enter Gillian Marchenko, author of “Still Life, A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression”.
The book tells her story of living with depression and the struggles she and her family dealt with. Based on her experiences, she made a list of things not to say to a mother fighting depression.
What not to say to a mother fighting depression
1. “Go outside for a walk”
Sunshine and fresh air help me sometimes when I am depressed, but I get tired of people suggesting outdoors activities as if I never thought of them. I do have a friend who shared with me how exercise and healthy eating made a difference in her husband’s depression. I appreciated the careful, loving way she attempted to help me from experience.
2. “You’re lazy”
This is a tough one for me. My mom and I recently figured out I struggled with depression as a kid, but I just thought I was lazy. I have friends and family members who equate my depression with laziness. I get it. If a person hardly moves and stays in bed, it can seem pretty lazy. But please understand that as a mother fighting depression, I’m not choosing not to do things. When I am depressed, sometimes I’m simply unable to do anything.
3. “Oh, my friend had that; she did XYZ to get rid of it”
When I am not in the midst of a major depressive episode, I appreciate hearing stories about others who found helpful ways to alleviate their pain in depression. But if I am really struggling, please don’t blow me off with a pat answer to my struggle. It’s real. It’s painful. I need understanding and validation.
4. “Your kids shouldn’t have to go through this (you’re a bad mom)”
This is the hardest part of depression and motherhood. Kids absolutely should not have to go through this. A mother fighting depression shouldn’t have to either. Trust me, guilt is a big part of the cycle of depression, especially when it comes to kids. Find ways to encourage us and point out concrete examples of our ability to mother well. Our kids are our biggest motivators to tackle depression.
5. “Snap out of it”
A lot of people can’t snap out of depression. It is an illness. Therapy, medication, exercise, eating right and other things help, and when they do, it’s great! But it’s not a question of a person snapping out of it. To say that is just mean.
6. “I’d be depressed but I don’t have time”
Ah, the active mom who can’t understand how another mom has the time to be depressed. Comments like this hurt. Moms who fight depression, again, do not choose the illness. Please know, we really want to be able to do more, and there are times when we are jealous of you and all that you accomplish. Depressed moms don’t make time to be sad. They fight to be well.
7. “Pray harder”
Ouch. If only our faith was stronger, we would not be depressed. God has blessed us with so much, isn’t it disrespectful not to be joyful? The joy of the Lord is our strength, right? If you have a friend who is depressed, absolutely pray for them. Gently encourage them to pray and seek God and read scripture. But please don’t make their illness a spiritual deficit. Trust me, if they are people of faith, they are praying like hell.
8. “Just take an antidepressant”
Antidepressants help a lot of people who struggle with depression. I am thankful they make a difference in my battle. But our methods of treatment are not really your business. If your friend had cancer, would you be inclined to advise her the best route to recovery?
9. “If you tried harder, you’d feel better”
People who struggle with depression want to feel better. As a mother fighting depression, I try.
10. “How can you be depressed when you have so many good things in your life?”
Whether or not one’s depression is situational or clinical, it is not a decision a person makes. “I think I’ll be depressed today.” Um, no. Please don’t say something condescending. But again gently, tactfully, point out the good things in our lives. Chances are, we need to hear about them.
Helping a mother fighting depression
Now, we’d like to weigh in. A mother fighting depression should never be judged and pressured into fitting a stereotype.
What mothers need — what every person needs — is empathy and understanding. Here are a few more things that we’d like people not to say to a mother fighting depression (and any depressed person, actually).
1. “You can’t just be sad all the time!”
Yes, depressive people can. That’s why it’s called major depression.
2. “Of course you’re depressed, you’ve made so many bad choices”
That’s not how depression works. And judging people will only drive them away.
3. “Aren’t you afraid your kids will become crazy?”
We already worry about this, so this isn’t helping. Maybe the doctor can ask this of a patient, and even then, they would phrase this differently.
4. “Can’t you just cheer up?”
Let us repeat this: depression doesn’t work this way. People usually say this because they don’t believe that depression is an actual mental illness.
5. “How can your husband trust you with the kids?”
This just seems like you’re already judging the person with a thing that she hasn’t done yet. Don’t do that. It’s judgmental and unnecessary.
6. “Don’t your children make you happy?”
This is one of the most infuriating. Ask yourself: Do you think mothers really want to feel like this? How a mother loves her kids and how they make her happy is different from how a human brain is wired or the chemical imbalance that causes depression.
It’s more complicated than you think
Don’t you think if there’s something that could make them magically better, they wouldn’t take it? Of course they would. But it’s not as simple as that.
What can make it better is your support and understanding.