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Is Toxic Positivity Harmful to People With Depression?

People with depression deserve empathetic and effective support. Unfortunately, they often receive toxic positivity instead. This blog will examine the effect of toxic positivity on people with depression.

Recognizing Toxic Positivity

Toxic positivity typically comes from a place of good intention. It appears like encouragement, but instead, it can stifle the individual’s emotional expression in a subtle way. Some of what is frequently said to a depressed individual falls into the linguistic category of thought-terminating cliches. Examples of this include:

  • “Just think happy thoughts.”
  • “Everything happens for a reason.”
  • “Choose to be happy.”
  • “Others have it much worse than you.”
  • “You’re stronger than this.”
  • “Good vibes only.”
  • “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
  • “Always look on the bright side.”
  • “Just smile.”
  • “Be grateful you have…”

These are only some examples of toxic positivity. All of these statements can detrimentally impact a person with depression. Although these statements might sound good on the surface, they shut a depressed individual’s emotions down rather than validating their experiences. In addition to the invalidating effect, toxic positivity also ignores the intersectional life factors that could exacerbate depression.

The Damage of Toxic Positivity

In a 2020 Washington Post article by Allyson Chiu, a psychology professor called Dr. Stephanie Preston, Ph.D., stated, “‘Looking on the bright side’ in the face of tragedy of dire situations like illness, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment, or racial injustice is a privilege that not all of us have….so promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling.”

People with depression already cope with symptoms like anhedonia, difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, and trouble focusing. That doesn’t even account for the overwhelming anguish and emotional distress.

Platitudes won’t combat the emotional or psychosomatic symptoms. In fact, these overused statements can make everything worse. A person in a depressive episode can feel out of control, so telling them to ‘just think happy thoughts’ can induce even more feelings of helplessness. They can’t make their brain function properly just by willing it.

Alternatives to Toxic Positivity

One of the best actions a person can take to help someone with depression is holding space for their experiences. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but it’s crucial. Additionally, a person should validate emotions. Listening can make a huge difference. People should implement the phrase “Your feelings matter” on a regular basis. Lastly, a person with depression might need help finding a treatment center.

It can feel difficult to talk about your trauma with your loved ones. When they’re a part of your treatment support system, it’s essential to discuss the topic. Before opening up about your trauma, you should ensure your physical and emotional safety with the person. It helps to plan what conversational techniques you’ll use. Seeking the assistance of a therapist can ease the process. At The Guest House, we offer inpatient and outpatient trauma-informed treatment programs. Our therapists can help you process and discuss your trauma. When you’re ready to start healing, please call us at (855) 483-7800.