What Not to Say to Someone With a Mental Illness
It's Mental Health Awareness month and I had no intention of writing a post. One of the reasons was because I forgot that it was during May. The other reason was because it's been a difficult month and I didn't want to post as much. Then I got on YouTube and saw a video that grabbed my attention. I watch teacher vlogs for some reason. I have no intention of becoming a teacher but the videos are calming to me. I know, I'm a strange person. I subscribed to a high school Chemistry teacher named James a few months back. He made a video that talked about being a teacher with a mental illness. I was incredibly moved by his honesty and transparency. It's because of that video that I wanted to make a post. I've been very open about struggling with depression and anxiety. I've also been seriously considering about going into the mental health field. I wanted to make a post that's been on my heart for a while. There is such a strong stigma surrounding mental illness. Sometimes I worry more about the stigma than the mental illness itself. It is so important for people who don't suffer from mental illness to be informed. It is important for them to understand the weight of what they are saying to people with mental illness. I've talked to some of my friends who have struggled and I've compiled a list of what people have said to them about mental health.
"But you're an extrovert."
I said this once. I knew after I said it how wrong it was. I was at school with a friend and we were about to study for a test. We had gone to a quiet but busy room and they had this look of worry on their face. They asked if we could please leave and started walking away. I followed them and they tried to explain how they struggled with anxiety. I was completely shocked because this person was so social and bubbly. I didn't think they struggled and that was my own ignorance. Mental illness doesn't just affect introverts (me). If someone says they need to leave, let them. If they want you to go as well then go with them.
"Someone has it worse than you."
Would you say this to someone who was physically ill? Would you remind a cancer patient that there are children who won't eat today? No, because that's incredibly insensitive. I know that there are people who say this with good intentions but it only does harm. Trust me, that person is already saying that in their mind. It only give them a feeling or a sense of shame.
"You're not praying hard enough."
"God can take away your pain."
I remember reading bible verses about anxiety. People would take them out of context and use them against me. Again, these phrases bring a sense of shame. Not only are you 'failing' mentally but also as a Christian or a religious person. It also gives false hope that God heals all mental illnesses. Everyone's journey is different. Some individuals suffer for a season and some will deal with it for the rest of their life. Sometimes it goes away and then comes back. It's okay to accept your mental illness and that God won't take it away. Accepting it is the first step to deal with it. Your mental illness is not a curse that God gave you to test your praying abilities and faith. Find comfort in your faith, not gain more anxiety.
"Happiness is a choice."
Again, this invalidates feelings. There are points where someone can choose their mood. Majority of the time though this does not help. There are days where someone needs to feel and try to understand their thoughts and feelings. It is impossible to be happy all the time.
"Just get out of bed."
There are days where someone can't get out of bed. I find that when I tell people this they often give suggestions of things to do outside of the house. If someone tells you this, offer to come over or ask if they want to watch a movie at their house. If you can't physically be there, call, text or write an email telling them how much they mean to you. I know they might act like they don't want you to be there but they do. They don't want to be alone, that might be why they reached out.
"Are you sure you want to do that? It's going to be difficult."
I remember being offered to potentially go on a mission trip out of the country. I was talking to a friend about it at the time and they said that. I knew that they were talking about my mental health and I immediately deflated. I ended up not going or even looking into it further. I regret this now because I knew that I could have done it. It was terrifying thought though. What if I couldn't do it? What if I had a panic attack? I didn't even think about that before they brought it up.
"Get a grip."
This will forever stay with me. Making phone calls is incredibly difficult for me. I try to avoid them because I have to rehearse an entire script before making the call. There was a situation where I had to make a phone call and I was struggling. There was another person who clearly didn't understand what I was going through or feeling. I did end up making that call and it was awful. If someone is struggling to do a simple task, there is a reason. Most situations are not as simple as we make them out to be. Be patient with others.
"Look at all the things you do have? Why can't you be grateful?"
The idea that people with mental illness are ungrateful needs to stop. We are grateful. You may not even know how grateful we actually are. We are grateful for certain experiences and what you have done for us. There are just days where we can't see the good in anything. We might recognize a kind gesture but we can't verbalize or feel that gratitude in that moment.
"You need to do this..."
This normally leads to a suggestion of a new hobby. If someone is not interested in their usual hobbies, they won't be interested in a new one. This can also lead to a sense of failure and ultimately does not help. It's okay for someone to not be okay for some time. Sit with them in that pain and ride the wave with them.
"Doesn't your medication make it worse?"
I used to agree with the stigma of anti-depressants and other medications. I thought they did more harm than good. There's also an idea that medication makes it worse. Everyone has a different experience and if medication helps them than they should have that. They may only have it for a certain period of time, you don't know.
"You don't look depressed."
I don't really know what to say to this. I have never had anyone say this to me, thank God. A person shouldn't have to prove their mental illness to anyone. I also don't understand what they expect you to say to that? How is someone supposed to prove their mental illness.
There are so many more that I could have included. It would be impossible for me to post everything but I hope that this helps. This post wasn't meant to make anyone feel bad. This post was to shed a light on an issue that we don't talk about enough. I find that we are talking about mental illness more but not in a way that is healthy. I could make a whole post about that as well. This post was meant to inform and better the way that we discuss mental health.
P.S. Here is the video that I mentioned in the beginning...