‘Other people have it worse’ and other terrible things said to people with depression and anxiety.
I have depression and anxiety.
Being able to say that phrase was incredibly difficult for me at first because I didn’t want to admit that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t want to be a burden or have really hard conversations with people about what I was going through. So like a squirrel, I buried my feelings and my symptoms as best I could. Of course, I couldn’t keep hiding things forever and over the course of a few years, I finally found the right ways to describe the right ways.
But throughout my journey of not only figuring out what I was going through but also actually going through it all, I’ve experienced a lot of questionable support. Repeated phrases that people might think are helpful, remedies that I’m sure are helpful to someone, and more have all been offered to me throughout the past couple years as I opened up about my struggles to the people in my life. The intentions behind them are all good, I’m sure, but there were many of them that actually had the opposite impact on me.
Other people have it a lot worse.
There was this one time a couple years ago in which I had a particularly awful anxiety attack late at night while I was staying at my mom’s. It was over something relatively frivolous, which I knew, but I couldn’t stop my anxiety. By the time my mom heard me and came over, I was already hyperventilating, panicking, restless, and felt out of control. After a moment of taking in the situation, she looked at me and said something similar to the above phrase .
I can tell you right now that hearing that did not make things better in that moment. In fact, it made things a whole lot worse because it diminished and disregarded what I was feeling. Instead of supporting me and talking me through my anxiety, she used guilt as a way to belittle my current experience. The entire situation only furthered the wedge between the two of us and I’ve fought to hide symptoms of my depression and anxiety from her since that night.
By saying that other people have it worse (or some variation), you’re using usually marginalized and oppressed people as a prop. It accomplishes nothing other than belittling those with depression and anxiety while simultaneously dehumanizing others. There’s nothing accomplished by saying it – people don’t mysterious stop starving because someone uttered that phrase and others aren’t miraculously cured of their depression or anxiety.
It’s all in your head.
This is simultaneously the entire point of mental health/illness and a really great way to gaslight someone. I know that this is all in my head but that doesn’t mean that I’m able to just will it away or that the accompanying physical symptoms of depression and anxiety aren’t real. I also know that in many cases, when I get anxious about something, it’s often something small or something I shouldn’t really be anxious over. Knowing that doesn’t help though. Instead, it often makes me feel even worse and often even more anxious.
I mentioned that this is also a good way to gaslight someone and it is. It manipulates people into questioning their perceptions of their own emotions and what is real or not. I can’t speak for others so I really should say that this is what that phrase does for me. It shames me into thinking that what I’m going through isn’t real, that I’m somehow making it up. It’s part of the reason it took me ~23 years to finally get help.
You should exercise!
A part of this phrase also comes from the fat that I am fat and have been for awhile. So when I originally went in to get help for depression and anxiety in college, this ended up being a big push from the nurse practitioner.
But getting out of the house or even just getting out of bed was and continues to be really difficult. There are and have been days where I’m just trying to not die. And while most days aren’t that dramatic, it still takes all of my energy to just get through the bare minimum. Doing stuff like taking a shower or making a meal or getting work done is incredibly difficult and it’s often all I can accomplish some days. There were weekends where if I showered and did laundry, it was a cause for celebration; if I made it to a coffee shop to do homework, it was a miracle. So exercise was not an option at many points in my life because I was just not able to get out of my house.
Lighten up. Or: stop being so negative.
Whenever I hear this said to me or to anyone with depression, I wonder if the person who said it has any idea as to what depression is. Living with depression is the biggest drain on both my own self esteem and my ability to enjoy and experience positive emotions. Negative emotions are frequently my go to emotions – I feel irritation, anger, sadness, and so much more in reaction to a whole lot of stuff before I feel anything else. And my depression is a huge factor in that.
Of course, these are just some of the things that I’ve personally encountered and my reactions to them are in no way universal. But all seem to address depression and anxiety in a rather negative way or don’t fully grasp the nature of what either really are. If you know anyone with depression or anxiety, I’d recommend avoiding these phrases and sentiment.
Instead, be there for them through the good and bad. Talk to them if they’re going through a panic attack and need a distraction. Learn more about depression and anxiety. Validate their experiences and emotions. Realize that not everyone’s mental health and experiences are the same.
And if you are like me and struggle with depression and/or anxiety, take care of yourself. Go take a shower if you can and do some laundry if you need to. Play a video game for a bit or read some of that book you’ve been meaning to pick up. Know that I love you and that there are many who at least understand some of what you’re going through. ❤ ❤