Mental illnesses don't discriminate, no matter your race, age, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status. Approximately 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental illness each year worldwide, that's about 450 million people. There has been so much growth in the way society thinks and acts about mental illness, but it isn't a secret that there's still work that needs to be done.
I can't even count the number of times someone said something so insensitive to me about my mental illness and they genuinely thought they were helping. What you say to someone affects them more than you may realize, and while trying to help someone with a mental illness it's important to choose your words carefully.
Here are 6 things to NEVER say to someone with a mental illness, and some better alternatives:
1. "It could be worse/others have it worse than you."
Trust me, I know things could be worse. Things could always be worse, and I am very aware that others have a much harder life than me. But it's insensitive to say to someone that just because someone else has it worse that they have no right in feeling the pain that they feel. It's not fair to invalidate someone's mental illness/struggles that come with it just because others have it worse.
"I'm sorry you're going through this."
"I'm proud of you for continuing to push through these hard times."
2. "You need to change your attitude/stop focusing on all the negative."
This is one that always hurts me the most. I understand changing perspective can be helpful, but it sure as hell doesn't just magically make everything better. Telling someone they need to stop focusing on all the bad makes them feel even worse about themselves, that it is their fault for feeling the way that they do.
This makes people with mental illnesses feel like a failure and that they alone are the reason for their pain. MENTAL ILLNESS IS MORE THAN JUST A BAD MINDSET. Mental illnesses are chemical imbalances, they are ultimately a physiological issue that takes more to fix than just "changing your attitude."
"You seem to be having a difficult time and I just want you to know I'm here."
"You have so much going on, how can I help?"
3. "Just snap out of it."
This one fits into the two above, but I thought it would be worth mentioning since I hear this almost daily. I cannot just "snap out of it" when I'm having an episode. This is like telling someone with a broken bone or the flu to "just snap out of it, you're really bringing me down and frustrating me." I can't believe I still hear this, especially from people who claim to care about me. I understand it's hard to want to be having a good time and someone is suddenly in a bad mood, but that doesn't mean I get to just push my mental illness aside when it isn't a convenient time.
Do you think we like to have our mental illness hit during a social event, date, vacation, etc.? I wish I could just snap out of it, you have no idea how badly I wish I could just push it away when I wanted to. But this is insanely insensitive to expect someone to just "turn off" their mental illness because it's an inconvenient time for someone else.
"Is there anything I can get you or do for you?"
"Do you need some space or do you want me here?"
4. "Everyone is going through something."
Yes, as I stated 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental illness. I know how hard it is for everyone having to deal with something like this. But it's important to note that mental illness is never the same for any two people. It affects everyone differently.
Do you realize how selfish it is to try and discredit what someone else is feeling just because "everyone else has something going on?" I promise, I do realize that I'm not the only one who is plagued by mental illness, but that doesn't discredit mine and doesn't mean I'm not allowed to feel the way I do.
"You have a lot going on and you're doing great."
"You're so strong, I'm here for you."
5. "Have you tried working out, meditation, herbal tea, etc.?"
This one drives me insane for a few reasons. First, it suggests that by just changing your mindset and your activities that you're going to be able to fix every single thing. Let me tell you right now, that doesn't work for a lot (if not most) people. Natural remedies may help to some degree, but it's also important to note again that mental illness is different for everyone.
Some of these may help some people, but I can say for me personally none of this helps me significantly in any way. They may help, but are not automatic fixes. This discredits someone's mental illness by suggesting it's all in their head. The second thing that frustrates me about this is that it suggests that someone isn't seeking treatment.
"What works for you?"
"Is there anything that you've found that will help you in this moment?"
6. "I don't understand why you can't go to work/class?"
I've been getting this one a lot recently. "Nobody likes their job, you need to get over it and go to work." This is incredibly hurtful. What you see is someone who is smart and capable that appears to just be lazy. I hate every single time I call into work or don't go to class because I'm having a particularly bad mental health day. But nothing makes it worse than when friends for family berate you for not going, saying that you need to suck it up and go or that everyone has to do it even if they don't like it.
Again, mental illness is different for everyone. I applaud those with mental illnesses that are able to go to work or class every single day, and I wish I could, but my mental health will always come first. People need to realize that by harassing someone for not being able to handle the same things as them it either makes them feel like a failure or pushes them to go which in turns makes their mental illness that much worse.
"It's okay to take a day for yourself, your health matters."
"Don't push yourself, I want you to be healthy."
There are a million different things I could put on this list, but I hope these are a start for educating people what not to say to people with mental illnesses. I understand a lot of the time you're just trying to help, but it's important to realize that even with good intentions what you say often seems insensitive and hurts more than it helps.
My best advice: listen to what someone has to say, offer your help, and let them know you're there for them. Don't act like you know what's best for them, because you don't. Each mental illness is unique to each person, if something you've said to someone else worked for them it will not necessarily help someone else. Don't act like their doctor, act like their friend.