Living with a mental illness or illnesses is hard. Not only for the person who is directly afflicted but friends, family, colleagues and society. Sometimes, persons who are not living with a mental illness and its associated symptoms and stigma can say the wrong things. They can be well meaning but it doesn’t make the advice any less worse.
Seven Things Not To Say To Someone With A Mental Illness
Snap out of it or Try Harder
It can be very disheartening to hear someone say, “try harder” or “snap out of it” when you are already giving your best effort. These statements will only make the person feel worse about themselves and their mental health struggles. A mental illness is not something you can just snap yourself out of. So please be mindful of what you are saying and how your words can affect someone’s attitude about their struggle. Your words can cause more harm than good.
It could be worse or you think you have it bad…
Comparing one person’s suffering to another’s is never a great way to cheer someone up. When you say things like It’s not that bad or it could be worse, you are essentially dismissing the pain of someone who is suffering. Even if you don’t have a mental illness, put yourself in their shoes or think of a time when someone did the same to you. How did that make you feel? Like you don’t matter or maybe you felt guilty for talking about your feelings. Well, then don’t do it to others. Treat every feeling as valid and acknowledge what they are experiencing.
it’s all in your head or you’re making it up
Please don’t go around belittling and blaming people for their mental health situation. A mental illness is a result of a combination of factors. It can stem from disorders of the brain (genetics), environmental factors or stress, and affect your mood, thoughts and behaviour. However, just because it affects your state of mind, it doesn’t mean that it is imaginary. And it certainly doesn’t mean that it is that person’s fault.
cheer up or smile
Even on a normal day when I’m just feeling low, a pet peeve of mine is someone telling me to smile. It totally gets on my nerves. I understand that this is probably well meant but telling this to someone with depression or other mood disorders is oversimplifying the situation. It’s impossible to simply “cheer up and smile” when you are depressed. It’s not like you can just force your brain to suddenly produce the right balance of chemicals to adjust your mood. So please be mindful of this well-meaning but terrible advice.
but you don’t seem sad or your life is amazing and you always seem so happy
Not everyone wears their mental illness out in the open. The stigma around mental illness can make persons wary of opening up and being vulnerable. Just because someone appears well-adjusted and happy on the outside, it doesn’t mean they are not battling something. So when they do decide to open up please don’t react with disbelief. It takes such courage to be vulnerable and when that vulnerability is met with disbelief, it can make it harder for them to open up the next time. They make start to doubt themselves and not seek treatment when needed.
EVERYONE FEELS DOWN SOMETIMES OR THAT’S NORMAL, THAT’S NOTHING TO COMPLAIN ABOUT
Yes, we all feel down sometimes or get caught up in negative thinking but that is not the same as having a mental illness. Dismissing a persons mood disorders as normal can be detrimental. They are less likely to seek treatment because they are constantly being told that what they are experiencing is natural. They are more likely to suffer in silence and feel guilty and incapable because they can’t handle ‘normal everyday problems’.
YOU ONLY THINK ABOUT YOURSELF, OTHER PEOPLE HAVE PROBLEMS TOO
When you’re in pain and suffering, it is human nature to focus on that. Pain is all- consuming and attention grabbing. Just because you are constantly thinking about that, it doesn’t mean that you are selfish and don’t think about others. There is no need to shame them or imply that they don’t care. This is also true of persons who have suicidal thoughts. It is natural to want your pain to stop. Shaming and guilting them doesn’t make the situation any better. Instead listen and try to support them in their time of need.
Sometimes we say things without considering how they will impact others. They can be well-meaning but in the end these pieces of advice can be far worse than we intended. Therefore, it is important to be empathic and put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. We get so caught up in the moment that we don’t stop and think. Remember to treat others the way you would like to be treated and to be mindful of our impact on others.
Other bits of advices to consider avoiding are platitudes like this too shall pass, this is all part of God’s plan, you’ll get over it or JUst let it go. These statements don’t offer much hope for persons who might not be able to entertain thoughts of a seemingly distant future. One where everything is better and they have ‘gotten over’ their problems. Also not everyone believes in God or a higher power. Just be mindful and careful not to place our own beliefs on others.
I know it is challenging to find the right words at times. Sometimes, simply listening actively and empathising is enough. Or asking them how they would liked to be helped. Find out what words, comments or statements are off-limits and which are helpful. You can also seek help from a professional. The best advice I have is to let them know that you are here for them, that you care and that they are important to you.
- 5 Things You Most Likely Didn’t Know About Depression
- Are Anxiety Attacks and Panic Attacks The Same?
- Five Simple (But Important) Things To Remember About Mental Illness
Thank you for reading.
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These are just a few examples of the worse advice people have received about their mental illness. Follow #ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness to read more examples.