Mental illness is a topic that is easy to tiptoe around and is still a taboo topic in many African households. And so, It can be hard to know the “right thing” to say to someone experiencing a mental health condition.
With the everyday rising issues and expectations, mental illness is becoming more and more prevalent. Despite this prevalence, those suffering from mental illness are still conscious and fearful to share for fear of being judged and stigmatized.
While most mean well, some just say the darndest things. Being an outright jerk to someone about their mental illness isn’t just inappropriate and ignorant. It’s cruel, so we are not going to talk about the mean and insensitive ones, but the ones where you mean well.
Steer away from these statements.
1. JUST DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT
Saying this doesn’t help someone with a mental illness condition who just opened up to you. Hearing you say it only adds guilt to the pile of emotions that was already overwhelming the person.
2. YOU DON’T NEED THERAPY
Telling someone he/she should be able to handle it on their own does not help. Such a statement is a horrific reinforcement of the negative stigma against admitting to having a mental illness condition.
3. THINGS WILL BE BETTER IN THE MORNING
On hindsight, this sentiment is intended to encourage the person. However, Platitudes, clichés, and vague statements don’t offer much for someone to hold on to in terms of hope. A person who is depressed may have a hard time envisioning the future because they are overwhelmed by the present.
4. IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD.
Don’t Dismiss Their Pain. This clearly suggests that the person is being dramatic or is imagining things. While it’s true that mental illnesses are technically caused by a set of complex factors such as brain chemistry, this ignores the emotional and the physical symptoms that mental illnesses can cause. Such as fatigue, a churning gut, muscle pains, sleep disorder, and weight loss or gain.
5. THINGS COULD BE WORSE
Who else hates this statement in general? We never tell people things could be better when they are celebrating an achievement so why do we say this? For people who have never experienced a mental illness, it can be hard to understand that depression and other mental illnesses often have no trigger at all. When you compare other people’s problems, you run the risk of belittling their experiences.
6. SNAP OUT OF IT!
If you’ve ever been told this, I’m sorry. This is one of the most dismissive comments of all. Telling someone to “cheer up” or “let it go” sends a damaging message that mental illness is something to be ignored, endured or both. When it comes to mental illness, you can’t just flick a switch and ‘snap out of it’. Anyone who has struggled with their mental health will know it can easily become part of your identity.
7. BUT YOU ALWAYS SEEM SO HAPPY
Although someone may seem to have it all, depression can affect anyone. Don’t tell someone they seem “fine” when they are clearly telling you they are not.
8. EVERYONE IS A LITTLE SAD SOMETIMES
So, you know what it feels like to not be able to trust your own mind and not want to get out of bed or be around people or take meds that make you feel weird sometimes? You know how it feels to believe your life maybe isn’t worth living? While It’s true that everyone can feel a little down sometimes, or have mood swings, this is often not the same as having a mental illness. Sadness on some days isn’t the same as “a hopeless pit of despair, having a panic attack, self-hatred and the absolute certainty of immediate death. If someone is constantly told that the way they’re feeling is “normal”, they’re much less likely to seek the treatment they need.
9. IT’S ALL PART OF GOD’S PLAN
Seeking support from a higher power can be very helpful. But this advice alone can make someone feel like they lack sufficient faith. I believe it’s not helpful to chalk up someone’s mental health concerns to being a part of “God’s plan.” For someone who may be struggling with their faith or spirituality, this might actually push them further away.
10. JUST TRY TO BE POSITIVE
you are essentially telling them that they are CHOOSING to be negative and that they are bringing this depression on themselves. Suggesting that someone can treat their mental illness with a simple attitude adjustment is unrealistic. Mental illnesses can be serious conditions, and often require treatment to match. If only it was as simple as turning that frown upside down! While a change in perspective can be helpful, it doesn’t cure conditions such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or schizophrenia. Just as someone who is depressed can’t force their brain to make more serotonin, they also can’t just “decide” to be happy.
11. SUICIDE IS SO SELFISH.
Suicide is a desperate act by someone who is in intense pain and wants their pain to stop. This is not a selfish response; it is a human response. For someone who has a mental illness and especially those having thoughts about suicide, it is so important that they are supported to get help. understanding suicide will help you know how to handle this.
12. GET A HOBBY, AND DISTRACT YOURSELF.
Great idea. Because I totally have the energy to start knitting or playing the guitar. Who knew getting over a mental illness could be so easy?” Remember: it is difficult for some people struggling to feel pleasure, even in things they once did before. With significant mental illness, [distractions] won’t work, not even temporarily. Ignoring the issue doesn’t make it go away.
13. DO YOU WANT TO GET BETTER?
While you mean no ill intentions, this implies that the person is staying sick on purpose and that he/she has no interest in pursuing health, or disinterested to get better.
14. WHY AREN’T YOU SEEING A THERAPIST?
While it’s fine to show concern for a friend, remarks like these can come across as accusatory. If the person says they feel like they have no options, you might say, “I always hear about therapy and medication, what are your thoughts on those?” Remember that this is a decision that is ultimately theirs to make.
15. AM I NOT ENOUGH FOR YOU?
When you’re talking to someone you care about, do not ever say ‘Am I not enough for you?'” Because the truth is, when you are in that pit, nothing is going to be enough for you. This adds an extra burden, and they start feeling guilty for making you feel that way.
16. BUT YOU DON’T LOOK SICK.’
Sometimes it will be clear that someone is struggling with mental health issues because it’ll show on the outside in the way they dress or even in their body in how they sit or walk. But with others, it isn’t so obvious. For instance, someone might still put a lot of time and effort into their appearance. By essentially asking them to prove that they are ill, you’re asking them to take away the one thing that might be keeping them afloat.
17. I FEEL SO SORRY FOR YOU.’
It’s important you don’t treat the person as a victim, and realize they are still your friend— they’re just going through a tough time.
18. YOU’LL GO TO HELL.
In some religious communities, mental health is still not particularly well understood. Especially when it comes to depression and suicide. In fact, in some religions, ending your own life means you go to hell, which some people may use as a scare factor in stopping someone from doing it. “Sometimes it is well-meaning — you hope that this fear of eternal damnation is going to stop someone from taking their own lives.” But all it does is increase their anxiety.
When Good Intentions Go Wrong
Talk to them the same way you did before, which lets them know your feelings about them or respect for them hasn’t changed; your relationship is stable. They’re the same person, just dealing with an issue that is less visibly obvious than a broken arm or the flu.”
What to do when someone says something hurtful
For those struggling with mental health, much of what’s been discussed will sound familiar. Rather than respond with anger when someone makes a hurtful comment, remind yourself “That person does not know enough for me to allow them to be the source of my hurt.”