Wednesday, March 21, 2012

10 Things Not To Say To A Depressed Expat

Hi Everyone, Over the years, I have received many emails from expatriate woman who admit to feeling depressed. For this reason, I am sharing a wonderfully honest article I found on a blog by Noch Noch (an expat in Beijing), that I hope might help anyone coping with their depression (or the depression of loved ones close to them). Warmest wishes, Andrea.

Background: I stumbled on Noch Noch's article after I read her Forbes article, 7 Secrets To Success As An Expat Executive. She also wrote the Forbes article, Against All Stereotypes: Stress, Depression, Recovery, and Then?

10 Things Not To Say To A Depressed Person
by Noch Noch

Noch Noch
I cringed at these things my friends said to me these few years. For those of you who don’t really get us, I’ve decided to let you know about ten things not to say to a depressed person, from my own experience.

...A few weeks back, a friend wrote to me and said she just found out that a family member of a friend has depression. But her friend did not know what to say or how to encourage the depression sufferer. She asked me if I had any recommendations. It got me thinking.

I can’t give medical advice, and I think what to say is very dependent on the personality and situation of the oppressed. However, what I can offer is my take on what not to say to someone in depression. Hopefully this can help you empathize where we "weirdos" are coming from, and for you to be more sensitive to our plight.

And on that note, please don’t ever ever, ever again say the below in bold type to me in whatever circumstances if you consider me a friend....

Do NOT say:

1. “Remain Positive”

I think: Duh! I know, but how? To me, my reality is that the world has already caved in. What is irrational to you makes utmost sense to me. I’m so angry / upset / sad / lonely / devastated / hopeless / in despair… Why can’t you understand me?

I feel: I recoil further into my shell to avoid future contact and meaningless advice because you never told me how to remain positive.

2. “Don’t think like that”

I think: Why not? What’s wrong with thinking like I do? It’s an honest opinion. I really think this. It’s negative all right, but that’s what I think, so what’s wrong? So how should I think instead? Like you? But I don’t agree with you, and then I become you if I think like you…?

I feel: I did something wrong for thinking a certain way, and you reprimanded me for thinking so. Thus, I withdraw, and berate myself for thinking the way I do, and spiral further down into depression due to self-criticism.

3. “Pull yourself together” / “Snap out of it”

I think: How? Snap out of what? I don’t want to be like this either. You think it’s fun?

I feel: ...completely useless and hopeless that I’m incapable of holding myself together and getting better. Depression snowballs with this sense of incompetence.

4. “Why do you need to be depressed?”

I think: Umm… I don’t know, I wish I knew. Doctors said it’s because of some imbalance in serotonin in me. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

I feel: ...accused of committing a heinous crime to be depressed. Confused because I don’t know what happened to make me depressed and how it all happened. I feel lost since I don’t know how to get out of depression. I feel inferior and worse about myself, so I hide from you as well, because I don’t want to feel inadequate.

5. “Look at how lucky you are already! Be thankful.”

I think: I am thankful for what I have. But what does that have to do with depression? Doctors and every website I’ve read say depression is an illness and has biological factors. Depression needs to be treated as any other sickness...

I feel: ...misunderstood as a spoilt, ungrateful little girl, when I’m not. Frustrated for being misunderstood. I cry. I wail. I feel sad. I retreat into my hiding place, again.

6. “Go do something and you will feel better”

I think: Go do what? I can’t be bothered. I’m tired. I’m not interested. I have no energy. I just want to sleep. Doing something won’t make me feel better. Leave me alone.

I feel: ...tired and lethargic, and I have no energy to think about what to do. I feel harassed because you keep telling me to do something.

(Note: What did work, was instead of telling me to do something, my fiance simply made me put my clothes on, slid me into my boots, and dragged me out of the house for a walk, talking about random things on the way, not once mentioning anything to do how I was doing or asking if I felt better.)

7. “What’s wrong with you?”

I think: I wish I knew. I wish I knew. Oh how I wish I knew. Can you tell me? Can somebody tell me? I don’t want to be like this. Why am I like this?

I feel: ...absolutely hopeless because I don’t know why I became like this, and I was unable to find out the reasons behind my depression. Very belittled and angry at myself. Can’t deal with this. I might as well die.

8. “You should do this…” or “You should not do this (such as kill yourself)…”

I think: Why? This is my life, I’m allowed to end it if I want. Why should I eat? I’m not hungry.

I feel: ...patronized by your condescending tone (even if you didn’t have one). I feel rejected for not doing what you think I am supposed to. I feel another bash to my already dwindling self-confidence, so you just succeeded in making me feel more desperate and more depressed.

9. “See how others suffer even worse, and have no food to eat. Be grateful for what you have.”

I think: But you told me not to compare myself with others, when I told you I was envious of others who have achieved more than me. So how double faced is it that just because others are less fortunate, I should compare myself with them? I know you are trying to tell me I should count my blessings – I do, trust me, I do. But how does this solve my depression? I still feel that life is not worth living despite being grateful for what I have. I am too tired to carry on and try.

I feel: ...baffled as to why sometimes you say don’t compare, and other times you tell me to do so. I don’t understand how being thankful makes me feel better, because what I have now has no meaning and no value to me. I just want to die. Maybe if I die, there’d be more food for those who don’t have any. Proceed to jumping out the window from the 30th floor.

10. “It’s all in your head…”

I think: It's not! But I know. How do I change my head? It’s not my fault. I didn’t want this. I can’t control it. I’m trying, but I can’t!

I feel: ...furious at myself for not being able to control my head and thinking. Inept at everything I'm trying to do, and worse, for disappointing you. I feel alone that no one can understand me. I alienate myself. I feel doomed to fail and might as well die…

Final Words

You might consider our reactions and emotions to what you say extremely unreasonable. I will not argue about it. Nevertheless, bear in mind that someone affected by depression does have a lot of “irrational” thoughts by standard of the norm. Yet, it’s our reality and we completely believe it, irrational or not. So don’t try to debate or convince us otherwise. You will only push us further down our bleak track.

My contention is that, the wrong thing said, can unknowingly push a depressed friend over the edge. Not to be fatalistic, but 60% of suicides in the world are associated with depression. Go ask the World Health Organization if you don’t believe me.

Please, give us a break. If we all had a choice, I don't think any of us would want to linger in a state of depression. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Just sit with us, let us cry, kick your shoes or whatever. That’s maybe all we need for now. Leave the lecturing to a medical expert such as a psychologist who can do it skillfully.

Author's Bio

Brought up in Hong Kong and Australia, Noch Noch was a young, overachieving executive for an international corporation. After seven years of living the life she dreamt of, or so she thought, she suffered a serious stress-related depression that turned her life upside down. As she battles with depression, Noch Noch is on a quest to be the wake-up call for others in similar plights in her blog, Be Me. Be Natural, where she jots down her reflections on living with depression and self-awareness. She is also the creator of Bearapy and she kindly gave us permission to republish her article on this blog.

15 comments:

Emma said...

Great post, I'm sure I've been guilty of saying some of those or at least thinking them but its hard to know what to say. I've been on both sides of that and being an expat can make it harder as people assume you are living the dream and life is perfect when in reality it can be much harder.

Emma said...

Great post, I'm sure I've been guilty of saying some of those or at least thinking them but its hard to know what to say. I've been on both sides of that and being an expat can make it harder as people assume you are living the dream and life is perfect when in reality it can be much harder.

Karla said...

Thanks for jotting these things down as I have been trying to wrap my brain around why I think so irrationally. I work in HR and have dealt with so many people that struggle with depression & try to hold it together while I try to deal with my own depression. It's so hard to explain to others that haven't dealt w/ anyone w/ depression but I hope I have made a difference for a few employees.

Noch Noch said...

Hi Emma - thanks for leaving your thoughts here. I think I was guilty of most of them before my own episode. It's massive learning curve being on both sides. I think it's part of my "duty" now to tell others how we feel, to avoid miscommunication. It's not reasonable to expect those who have not been through depression to know what it's about either.

And yes, being an expat makes it doubly harder to reconcile our "glam" life with the challenges. No one gave any sympathy, and I stopped talking about my issues as an expat with non-expat friends...

hope you are well

Noch Noch

Noch Noch said...

Hi Karla

I'm sure you have, whether you know it or not. I think a lot of us just need some empathy, and not be dismissed as "not capable" simply because we are wrought with depression

Thanks for giving yourself to help your employees. They are lucky

Noch Noch

linda@adventuresinexpatland.com said...

Thank you so much Noch Noch for having the guts to write this post. While some of the things you mention may have been said out of kindness and not knowing how to phrase things, others reflect a total lack of understanding about depression. A couple were just downright...well, let's just say I'd be wondering whether the person really was trying to help or not.

Your point about just being there, willing to sit and be together without lecturing, and getting fresh air/mild exercise/sunlight (don't I sound like everyone's mother!)are excellent. I'm helping someone through a rough patch and while I may have said one or two previously, I would never do so now.

Perhaps the biggest message is: depressed isn't sad. It's well beyond sad, and it needs to be addressed by professionals. Again, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Take them out, make them happy, flirt, compliment them make them feel better about themselves. Help them find out what is making them unhappy and depressed and help them change that. I was depressed for 4 years, until a friend told me that she didn't want to talk to me until I was happy again. Then I realised what I liked about me and what made me unhappy.

Bea said...

Yeah, I get 'you're living the European adventure!!!' I suppose that paranthetically what is being said is something akin to 'quit complaining, you should be grateful'. Yes, I'm grateful, but, sometimes, I feel very out-of-sorts and it's hard to remember that I'm living a life of which others may be envious.

Russell Ward said...

Having been brought up in Australia, I'm sure you've heard the 'toughen up' comment before which is not too dissimilar to #3 - “Pull yourself together” / “Snap out of it”.

I've heard it said too often before here and wonder how tough you need to pretend to be before you have to admit "you know what, I'm actually having a really hard time here right now".

Your blog is fascinating by the way. Thanks for writing what you do.

doshebu said...

I went through an emotional journey as an expat. I didn't have the right skills or ways of seeing the world so I started to look for the explanation of why my life wasn't going well anymore.

I recommend Caroline Myss as a new way to look at your problems and understand why you aren't enjoying life. Especially when you have so much in your life that others don't have.

Jennifer Kumar, Cross-Cultural Coach said...

One of the reasons people get depressed in the first place is that they can not find a single soul who 'gets them' or a single person they feel they can relate to. Most people dismiss their feelings and thoughts and push them aside in their own interests.

When someone is depressed because of being misunderstood and not having their feelings taken seriously in the first place hears any one of these comments, it just solidifies in their heads that no one cares, that no matter who they reach out to, no one really has their best interests at heart and their feelings are meaningless.

Moving to another country can be all roses and balloons, but if one can not integrate and find a way to feel comfortable in the local situations, even something as simple as 'going out to coffee' with someone is impossible due to the language barrier. So, finally when this expat meets someone of the same language group and then tries to find their voice and then hears any of this utter nonsense it just often closes people right back up again.

What would you prefer to hear instead of any of these sayings?

Thanks for posting.

Christian Louboutin said...
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Anonymous said...

Hi all!!! I have found hese comments so useful, and only discovered the a week or so ago. I lived in eight countries, and returned to the UK inbetween, so in various ways, particularly with five sisters and one brother, got an extreme amount of sibling rivalry. I really understand the 'glam' lifesyle stupid attitude as they had never done anything. As soon as my fortunes grew, their sibling rivalry and age, much older than mine grew into exclusion from every family event. This has continued over eight years. If that is nt enough, I was called clinically depressed, mentally ill, and evil. I was none of those!!! I had a brief time of reverse culture readaptation, and evn that I kept to myself in the main. I still feel shocked at the way their sibling rivalry got worse as they got more resentful and full of hatred, and suddenly became verbal. As far as I am concerned, I am not responsible for their lack of education, being more beautiful, and living overseas, and their failed marriages, and their bitter and twisted resentments!!!! They had no choices in their jobs, because they had no qualifications. It is their problem, not mine. But it turned very nasty in these horrible slogans when I was completely alone in the UK. I think seeing them for two hours in eight years was a shock for me, but it now isn't. I think that it is better to keep people like that out of your life, whther they are friends or family.

Perla said...

Ver interesting post. I have lived in 4 countries in the last 8 years. It was exciting at first, but then everything that used to make me "me" wasn't there anymore...my career, Friends and family were not there, neither the sunny weather.
Bit by bit I started feeling very sad, lonely and hopeless. I had never felt this way before as I was always cheerful. My husband doesn't understand and keeps on telling me some of the comments people tell you to try to make you feel better... But it doesn't help. He even asks me: what do you want me to tell you to make you feel better? Same, I wish I knew!
I have been prescripted with antidepressants as well, but I am resisting, I can't believe It has gotten to this point! I haven't taken them yet.
It is like a roller-coaster, I try really hard and I am ok for 2 days... Then back to depression for 3 or 5.
It's nice to know I am not the only one going through this... Thanks

Sandra said...

Greetings
Oh I so get it. I am in year four of living in Chile without possibility of a work visa. It has gradually eroded me into much less confident and cheerful version of myself. I appreciate the post as the "cheer up" talk that is given to by those working is facil and thoughtlessly snarky in some cases. Hang in there, Sandra, in a small town in Chile

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