There’s plenty of advice on treating depression. There are thousands of books, blog posts and magazine articles. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Try this herb or vitamin. Avoid sugar. Be grateful. Be more grateful. You just need some fresh air. Go to therapy. Don’t go to therapy—it’s a waste of time and money.
Of course, some advice is sincerely spot-on. Some advice seems helpful, but misses the mark for people struggling with clinical depression. And some of it is just plain bad. Which is why we asked psychologists who specialize in depression to share the damaging advice they’ve come across—which you’ll find below.
Decide to be happier. Pasadena psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, has heard this advice from many (well-intentioned) loved ones of clients with depression. Maybe they assume the person is simply in a funk or having a bad day, he said.
“They don’t get that it’s not that simple, and that [their depression] may have much deeper historical, biochemical, or trauma-based roots that require a much deeper and more intense process than just flipping a switch.”
This kind of advice implies that a person has decided to become depressed and it encourages them to wear a mask that keeps them from actually working on and through their issues, Howes said.
“Most often, my clients who have tried this approach are only prolonging their suffering as they avoid the hard work of confronting issues they need to address to overcome depression.”
A similar piece of advice is to focus on the positives and be grateful. “These are pretty good ideas in general, but for someone struggling with mental illness, hanging a motivational poster in their room, and starting a gratitude journal isn’t going to cut it,” said Stephanie Smith, PsyD., a psychologist in private practice in Erie, Colo. “In fact, trivializing depression by assuming that a clever-sounding phrase can cure it, can do much more harm than good.”
Use only “natural” or alternative treatments. Treatments such as meditation, aromatherapy, light therapy and massage therapy are helpful in diminishing symptoms of depression, said Deborah Serani, PsyD., a psychologist in private practice in New York and author of three books on depression.
However, they alone can’t treat depression. Because “depression is a real medical illness.” It is a serious illness that’s life threatening.
“When I read articles or hear others talk about tossing aside evidenced-based treatments like cognitive-behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, and neurobiological treatments, I worry that lives are being put at great risk,” said Serani, who also lives with depression.
Skip therapy because it takes too long. There’s a misconception that therapy takes years to treat depression—which can lead many people to assume it’s not a good option for them. However, as Serani pointed out, there are numerous highly effective short-term treatments for depression, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, behavioral activation therapy, intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy and problem-solving therapy.