Empathy Instead of Sympathy

By Byron Banks

Growing up with a mental health diagnosis, you must learn very quickly that you may perceive things differently than most. In some cases, an extra dose of empathy is needed as opposed to sympathy.

Someone dealing with depression may have difficulty finding pleasure in some things that an average person would jump for joy over. To some, providing any amount of sympathy can help that person deal with their emotions. However, comments like, “I feel sorry you,” or “Don’t feel bad; you should be smiling” often make a person dealing with depression feel worse. It can be hard to explain what you are going through if the response you’re given is synonymous with a casual “cheer up.”

In dealing with depression and working with individuals diagnosed with depression, I have noticed we respond more positively to empathy. You may not understand what the person is going through, but understanding that they may have abrupt changes in their mood will increase knowledge. Instead of feeling sorry for the person, understand and validate their feelings. Give them space to open up and be themselves. Most people with depression understand that there are often in bad moods. Validating it instead of trying to change it can make the individual feel more accepted and, in some cases, understood.

Knowing the difference between empathy and sympathy can help you connect with many individuals dealing with a mental health diagnosis. These individuals respond better to someone understanding their feelings as opposed to being told how to feel.

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