“It could always be worse.”
“Just think happy thoughts.”
“Just relax. It’s fine”
“Why are you so upset?”
“Stop being so negative.”
“Just let it go.”
“Don’t worry so much.”
We know you all mean well. We know you want to help your loved one, co-worker, or friend who is has a mental disorder such as anxiety or depression, but these words above…they are not only hurtful, they are detrimental to the wellness of the person suffering from these illnesses.
We already feel there is something wrong with us, it is something we can’t shake; and if it was as easy as “just relax”, well we’d be cured! And we blamed ourselves because we can’t shake it.
It’s not just “in our head”, it is actually our head. It’s not something we can control and turn off like a switch. There are good days where we manage it well. And then there are very bad days that can last for weeks; and on those day just getting out of bed is a struggle.
Did you know anxiety and depression seems to go hand-in-hand 50% of the time? That’s huge.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION:
Scientists have found that people suffering with depression have a smaller hippocampus, the seahorse-shaped structure in the brain. This area controls emotions and memory. What makes matters worse is the longer depression goes untreated the smaller the hippocampus becomes and the hole of depression gets bigger and harder to fight.
On the anxiety side of life, scientists have discovered that the brain of someone suffering with anxiety is already overly sensitive to stress and it takes them longer to recover from a stressful situation. In a stressful situation the brain triggers the body in a flight or fight reaction (heart palpitations, sweating, muscle tension, trembling hands, feeling that you are about to lose it, feeling nauseous, etc.). To make matters worse, even in a relaxed state an anxious person is still a bit anxious. That is because their brain is always a little over-excited. Even the slightest amount of stress can cause them to be pushed over the edge. Blame it on their brain.
There is a fear that keeps people from talking openly about what is going on in their head, even with a doctor. It’s called shame and judgment. Shame and the fear of judgment that we can’t handle what is going on in our own head, and this is why nearly 50% of people don’t seek treatment.
If you are suffering: Remember, you are not Iron Man (although that would be cool). You are only human. Give yourself a break for being human. Seek help from a professional. This may or may not result in being medicated. The doctors are there to help you decide what is best for you. Don’t know where to start? Below are links that might help you start this process.
What to say to someone who is suffering with anxiety and/or depression: Start by not saying those statements listed above. Try saying instead, “How can I help you today?” Sometimes they need a helping hand; and no, they aren’t going to keep asking for it because they think they should be able to handle it. This could mean taking their kids off their hands for an afternoon. Or, could you help a co-worker finish a project that is stressing them out?
How to really listen to someone who is suffering with anxiety and/or depression: Many times they are asking for help, just not in an overt way that you want them to. Many times they are saying things like, I am stress, I can’t get it all done, It’s too much work, or I need help getting it done. Many times those around them, who don’t suffer from mental disorders, think everyone should be able to handle a little bit of stress, therefore these statements go unheard. As you read above, science says otherwise, and your little bit of stress is a whole lot of stress to the overly anxious and depressed.
Finally, if you can’t do anything else, at least be kind. You can never go wrong with showing kindness.
Resources: Heart Support, The Conversation, Live Science (Anxiety Disorders), Live Science (Depression)