When you're supporting someone with depression, our friend, then generally speaking, it's good to be positive. However, there's also such a thing as toxic positivity - which unfortunately, is something that many people with depression have been subjected to, and rather than uplifting them, tends to make them feel frustrated, misunderstood, and even more depressed. So, in this blog post, we'd like to share with you:
- Firstly, what toxic positivity is in the context of supporting someone with depression;
- Secondly, what the negative impacts of toxic positivity can be;
- Lastly, what some alternatives to toxic positivity are.
Are you ready?
What Is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is the inappropriate overgeneralisation of a happy or joyful state to situations that are inherently distressing and painful. For example, telling someone to "cheer up" after their dog has just died.
Additionally, some common examples of toxic positivity that are often directed towards people with depression include:
- Being told to "just think positive" (this is unrealistic, since when depression sets in, your thoughts become distorted, and often ﬁlter out everything positive. So, telling someone with depression to "just think positive" is like telling someone to just look at all the colours when they can only see black and white).
- Being told to "just smile" (this can make people with depression feel like you don't care about their suffering because it makes you uncomfortable. It can also signal to them that they're a "burden", and therefore encourage them to socially withdraw / isolate).
- Being told that "others have it way worse than you and they get by" (this can make people with depression feel that you believe they're handling things poorly and are disappointed in them).
- Being told to "be grateful, because you have so much going for you" (People with depression are often “logically” aware they have some good things going for them, but depression can prevent them from truly “feeling” this and experiencing it. If this is the case, then this is something they may feel guilty and bad about, and consequently, being told to "be grateful because you have so much going for you" can make them feel even more guilty and worthless than they already feel).
- Being told to just "be happy" (if people could magically just "get over their depression and be happy", they would - but unfortunately, depression is much, much, much more difficult to overcome than this. Consequently, being told to just "be happy" is almost certainly going to make someone with depression feel upset and misunderstood).
- Being told that "you’re just in a rut, it happens to everyone from time to time" (This comment grossly minimises the severity of depression).
- Being told that "things aren’t THAT bad!" (this implies that the person with depression is just being “dramatic” and that their feelings are invalid).
The Negative Impact Of Toxic Positivity
As we hope you can see from the above examples, toxic positivity can have many negative impacts. In particular, these commonly include:
- Invalidating people with depression's emotions;
- Making people with depression feel guilty for their struggle;
- Minimising the experiences of people with depression;
- Making people with depression feel alone and misunderstood;
- Making people with depression feel ashamed of themselves;
- Making people with depression want to withdraw / isolate;
- Making people with depression feel even more depressed.
Alternatives To Toxic Positivity
Because toxic positivity can have so many negative impacts on people with depression, then instead of toxic positivity, we really encourage you to offer your loved ones with depression alternative forms of support. In particular, we encourage you to replace toxic positivity with:
- Acknowledging that depression is a real illness and that healing can take time;
- Accepting that while you may not be able to relate to your loved one with depression's suffering, it feels very real to them;
- Asking what you can do to help them;
- Listening empathetically;
- Reassuring them that you're there for them.
If you're supporting a loved one with depression, then we really hope you've found this blog post helpful.
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.