Think Happy Thoughts

During the years of suffering bipolar disorder, I have had endless people tell me to “think happy thoughts,” or to “snap out of it,” “cheer up, other people have it worse,” and on and on and on. It is as though they thought that I didn’t know about these wonderful suggestions.

Others questioned whether I was “trying hard enough,” whether I “really” wanted to get better. The common thread seemed to be that I had somehow chosen to suffer, and all I had to do was to choose to be happy.

These comments were completely unhelpful. They were also painful to me, because they dismissed my suffering as trivial or self-inflicted. Sometimes they were well-meant; but often people were just being insensitive or even brutal. Maybe they thought of it as “tough love” or something.

All of these suggestions are completely useless in clinical depression. They may work for people who are feeling sad and disappointed by events. These people can just snap out of it. The painful situation resolves, or else time gives perspective, and they start to feel their usual, more cheerful selves.

Clinical depression is a disorder in which the sufferer cannot “snap out of it” or “think happy thoughts.” That is why it’s clinical – it doesn’t resolve.

The bottom line is that telling a person suffering from clinical depression to snap out of it or try harder is not only unhelpful, it is positively harmful. Its effect is to leave the person feeling all the more isolated and alone – and hopeless. It is worse than no help at all.

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