I got diagnosed with generalized anxiety and bipolar II disorder about two and a half years ago, and I was struggling for a long time before that. Believe me when I tell you that you just don't understand what that means. People without mental illnesses simply can't fathom the difficulty that someone with it faces. Which is fine, I'm not angry at those people. Some days I wish I was them.
But what does bother me is when they start saying detrimental things as if they understand what I'm going through. What's worse is that many people don't even think before they say these things. Either that, or they simply don't care. It's so frustrating, and I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. So, to try and help you not be the next ignorant person to say something offensive, here's eight things you just shouldn't say to someone with a mental illness.
1. "It's all in your head."
Yes, and that asthma is all in your chest. Please, whatever you do, don't say this to someone who's struggling with a mental illness. Because yes, it is literally in their head, but that doesn't make it invalid. Trust me, the hardest thing I've experienced in life so far is having to fight against my own mind every day. You don't understand that unless you've lived it, so the best thing you can do is understand that you don't understand. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run if you just realize that you never really know how much someone is struggling.
2. "You're doing this for the attention."
Honestly, in my experience, the last thing people struggling with mental illness want is attention. People who deal with self-harm especially often have to endure this comment from everyone. Parents, friends, and even strangers. If we actually wanted attention, don't you think we'd make a bigger show of our cuts, our panic attacks, our crippling depression? Don't you think we'd wear it like a badge of honor if we actually wanted attention? Everyone I know does everything they to hide their pain and pretend like everything's okay. So if someone trusts you enough to be honest with you about what they're going through, don't make them regret it by making some snide comment about attention-seeking.
3. "Suck it up."
No. Mental illness is not something you can just get over with enough effort and willpower. It can be improved and made more manageable through a lot of therapy and medication, but it cannot be eradicated. It doesn't go away. No amount of "suck it up" or "be a man/woman" will magically change the fact that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way their brain works. It's a chemical imbalance, not a funk that can be broken with enough hard work. It's understandable why someone would say this, as most problems in life can be fixed if you try hard enough. But that isn't how mental illness works. You wouldn't tell someone with cancer to just get over it, would you?
4. "______ has it worse than you."
One of the first things they taught me at the mental hospital was that comparing pain is unhealthy and dangerous. For all the things that were wrong about that place, that was very, very right. I've been told everything from "That girl has attempted more times than you" to "There are starving children in Africa and you're caught up in your own insignificant problems" and it's really asinine if you think about it. Is it unacceptable to be happy because someone else is happier? No. So why would it be wrong to be sad when someone else is sadder? All saying that does is make that person feel guilty for having problems, which makes them far less likely to reach out for help.
5. "Happiness is a choice."
My grandma says this all the time. It's a nice idea, self-empowering and positive. It comes from the right place, too. All it's trying to say is that you have the power to improve your own life. However, when told to someone who is constantly sad, angry, anxious, jumpy, or anything else, it can be taken to mean that you think they can snap their fingers and get better. That hurts, it really does. Don't plant that idea in someone's head who already feels insecure about the state of their mental health, that they're weak just because they're having a hard time. It stings, and it's something that's hard to shake once someone's said it. You can make someone start to feel inferior for something that's completely beyond their control.
6. "You're crazy."
You know, crazy is a relative term. It can be used to refer to anything from a wild kid to a drunk frat boy to a serial killer. However, when applied to someone with a mental illness, you make them feel even crazier than they already saw themselves as. We aren't delusional. We know there's something wrong with our brains, and it makes us feel insane sometimes. So if you tell us that you agree with us, that we're totally out of our minds, we're never going to stop seeing ourselves as monsters, because we think that the rest of the world sees us that way.
7. "You aren't even trying."
Trust me, if that person wasn't trying, they'd be dead. It's a constant struggle just to keep yourself alive, sane, to try and act like a normal person. Just because they aren't doing everything you think they should be doing, doesn't mean they're sitting on their butts all day feeling sorry for themselves. Normal everyday activities can be nearly impossible for someone with a mental illness. Someone with anxiety would probably rather die than give a presentation in class. For a depressed person, getting up to go to school in the morning could take literally all their energy. If someone is trying to quit self-harm, simply getting through the day without it can be nearly impossible. It's an entirely different lifestyle, and trust me when I tell you that you don't understand how hard someone could be trying just to be there in front of you.
8. "It's just a phase."
It's really not. Mental illness is a lifelong struggle. It isn't like the bouts of sadness that everyone goes through, like after a breakup or a rejection letter from a college. Mental illness is suddenly being on the verge of tears for no reason. It's being curled up in a corner with numb fingers and the ground falling out from under you, hyperventilating with your heart beating 100 miles an hour. It's not being able to do the things that every teenager should be able to do, like go to dances and out on dates, because it makes you too anxious. It's being angry with everyone who doesn't deserve it and not being able to explain why. It's being incredibly happy one minute, and suicidal the next. It's knowing you're being completely irrational but not being able to stop it. It's things I can't even describe because I know that I don't fully understand it, because I haven't gone through it. But that's what someone who's mentally ill goes through on a daily basis. It's like nothing you've ever experienced. So don't tell someone that it's just a phase, that it'll pass, because they know it won't and you're just making them feel more alone.
So there you have it. Hopefully, now you know a little bit about what goes on inside a mentally ill person's head, so you can be sympathetic and understanding the next time around. The best thing you can do is just be there for your friends who are struggling. You never really know what someone could be going through, and the last thing you want to do is contribute to the problem.