Things Not To Say To A Depressed Person

Just a quick post today!

There are lots of really irritating things people say to you when you are suffering from depression. I think they are well-meaning, but thoughtless and rather ignorant of our situations. These can come from friends, family, church people, employers, anyone really, but there are few things more irritating.

The one I want to mention in this post is the “Smile!” thing.

This one often comes, for me, in the form of a stranger feeling the need to comment on my appearance. (I get other comments too – usually about my weight). When I have been very badly depressed I may be walking along somewhere, shopping, drinking in a bar: displacement activities to try to ease the depression, even just a little. However, I am still depressed and I really don’t appreciate it when someone (usually a man) comes up and says “Smile!” or things like “it’s not that bad!”

First of all, what do they know about my situation? I have depression, smiling isn’t going to make that go away!

Second, what gives them the right to comment on my appearance at all? What has it got to do with them? I don’t point out their big nose, what makes them want to point out that I don’t have some ecstatic look on my face at all times?

The F-Word Blog has a post where they link this phenomena to sexism, basically. They say that:

Another common stereotype of women is that they should be calm, quiet, happy and non-aggressive. They should always walk around with smiles on their faces, even when they have had a crappy day and do not feel like smiling. “It has happened a handful of times, when I am out walking, that random men on the street have felt like they have the right to tell me to “smile”. This angers me because I do not know these people and they are taking their gendered assumptions of women as always happy and smiley out on me. Leave me alone and I would be much happier”.

I personally have only been told to “smile” etc by men, so I would go with this really. But I don’t know whether men are also targeted, or whether women do that.

It is irritating, frustrating and just stop it. You may mean well, but it is unpleasant, particularly if you are depressed, to be essentially told to lighten up. So anyone reading who feels like they want to say that sort of thing – keep it to yourself.


  1. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” 2 Timothy 3:16. I use this verse only to back up why we speak the truth in love. the Proverbs are practical and applicable in our every day lives. We’ve all been/are fools, hence, why we need Jesus Christ to speak wisdom into our hearts. I share the following proverb with you, not to critcize you, but to rebuke the attitude behind your anger. Love always speaks the truth in love. God’s word is love.

    “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult. A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:15-18

    I know in my own life, I have wanted people to side with me so I feel justified in wallowing in self-pity, but the people who have challenged me to view life through a new lens were pointing me towards a change of heart…inner healing/renewal. I was mad at them for awhile because discipline is not pleasant at the time, but painful, but later produces are harvest of righteousness for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11). I can now say that I’m thankful for thier willingness to care enough to be honest with me anything less than that disempowers us.

    God’s richest blessings to you!

  2. I’m not sure that being annoyed when told to “smile” by strangers when you are depressed counts as a bad attitude or self-pity, really. I agree that we can end up in a state of “poor me” and end up with a chip on the shoulder, not even trying to move past a perception of ourselves as ill, or worthless, or permanently disabled. I take the attitude that, yes, I have an illness, and I am likely to suffer from it again, but I am currently well and I can achieve many things, though I do need to take certain things into consideration so that I do not get ill again.
    I still think that for a stranger who hasn’t taken the trouble of asking why we are not happy, who doesn’t care enough to try to actually help, tosses off a glib “smile, the world isn’t that bad” is impolite at best and offensive at worst.
    I am not calling for a descent into self-pity, just pointing out one of the annoyances of being mentally unwell is thoughtless attitudes of the mentally well. Depression is serious, and for people to act as though forcing a smile out will actually cure us, can be very hurtful. I know I have forced a smile for others’ happiness in the past, but I would rather have been with my friends who understood that I was trying my best to be well, to be less depressed, but that I had other things on my mind than smiling for their convenience,
    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I completely agree! It is so frustrating to be trying to hold yourself together in public, trying not to cry as you walk around in the grocery store, only to have some idiot come up to you and tell you to smile! There are a few choice words I always want to say, but never do. I usually just glare at them. I had someone (I think it was a clergyman – he was wearing a white collar) give me a depression pamphlet in Walmart once. I actually found that less offensive than if he had told me to “Smile!”. At least he was giving me something that he thought could help.


  1. […] talks us through some ideas of what not to say to a depressed person. The one I want to mention in this post is the “Smile!” […]

  2. […] in a world where a person with depression is not told to “pull yourself together” or “smile!” or, in Christian circles, “You have a spiritual problem”, where depression is treated […]

  3. […] may also be interested in my articles: Things Not To Say to a Depressed Person One and Two and Spiritual Sticking Plasters as well as 1o Ways to Cope With […]

  4. […] before about a few things that are unhelpful to say to someone who is experiencing depression (here and here) and I thought I would draw together the ten least helpful things in one post. Similar […]

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