In the United States alone, nearly one out of every five people is suffering with one or more mental illnesses. That means that when a person passes you by on the street, they have a better chance of having a mental illness than of having green eyes.
Yet, why are so many people struggling with knowing what to say, or maybe what NOT to say, when they are talking to a person with anxiety, depression or maybe even PTSD? Have you ever been involved in a group conversation at a party, only to hear a friend tell a newer acquaintance that he knows all about her struggle with OCD because his mother is a “neat freak” and asked him to keep his room clean when he lived at home? Pretty awkward, right?
So, let’s take a look at just a few of the many things that you should never say to a person who has a mental illness. We can all learn a thing or two, right?
- “Stop focusing on negative things.”
I think we’ve all gone to a negative place before, where no matter what we do to shake ourselves out of it, that’s where we reside for day or two. Maybe we’re jealous of the neighbor’s new car, or perhaps we spent an afternoon thinking about mistakes that we’ve made. But eventually, most of us snap out of it and go about life as usual.
When a person has a mental disorder, sometimes even the happiest moments can be overtaken with feelings of depression or anxiety over what comes next. This is all part of the illness, and completely not within the boundaries of control. We should all keep in mind that people don’t choose to be mentally ill, and no amount of focusing on an upcoming vacation or getting a raise at work will push away symptoms of illness.
- “Everyone feels that way at one time or another.”
Sure .. sometimes we all have had a bad day or even a bad week, or perhaps we have experienced a feeling of hopelessness when we lose our job or have some other type of financial or social setback. However, these feelings and emotions are temporary. Something good will happen the following day, and most of us will forget all about what had us in a disheartened place the day before.
But it’s not like that for a person suffering with a mental illness. Depression isn’t something that will just “go away” because your favorite band comes to town or you close on your first house. It can take years of therapy and medication adjustments to balance out a person’s levels of anxiety. So, please don’t dismiss it with a, “I felt that way yesterday, too”.
- “Keeping busy should help.”
We have all probably found ourselves using diversion tactics at one time or another before. Maybe we’re thinking about our busy Monday morning, so we go out for a movie Sunday night to get our minds on something else before the start-of-the-week alarm clock rings. Sometimes we even just call a friend and reminisce about old times to stop thinking about an ailing parent or that test your doctor wants to run next week. We’ve all been there.
But “getting your mind off it” doesn’t work so well for someone with a mental illness. Yes, maybe they will push through the activities or events that you plan to “cheer them up”, but diversion isn’t a sound replacement for therapy treatment. Does this mean that you shouldn’t go shopping or watch Monday night football with your good friend? Of course not! Just don’t see it as the magic wand that will “cure” a disease.
- “I know how you must feel.”
Sometimes seeing people close to you hurt will make you want to empathize with them, explaining that you think that you honestly do feel their pain. Maybe you’re having an especially difficult time dealing with an emotional loss of some kind, or perhaps you have another friend who has been diagnosed with a sleeping disorder. But do you really feel the way a person with a mental condition must feel?
If someone close to you is suffering from a mental illness, the last thing they want to hear is how their ongoing pain is identical to what you experienced for a week or two until you found a solution for your problem. Plus, let me tell you that anxiety and depression are not the same things, so explaining away about how your aunt had anxiety and went through exactly what a person who has depression has experienced will not score you any extra points in the “good listener” category.
- “Plenty of people are worse off than you are.”
Everyday we see people who are down on their luck or need a little extra help. Thankfully, there are organizations that make attempts to offer assistance whenever possible. Many people live hard lives, and most of us are grateful to help whenever we can.
However, people with a mental illness aren’t just “going through a rough patch”. And no matter how worse off someone else’s life might be, it doesn’t automatically wipe away the symptoms that they have learned to deal with each and every day. And there is often no trigger whatsoever to bring out symptoms for a person who is suffering with a mental illness, so knowing that someone else is out there suffering more than you won’t ease the feelings of stress and helplessness. Plus, telling a person that they have it a lot better than other people belittles their experiences.
- “You should try herbal tea.”
We live in a time period where there are herbal and holistic remedies for just about everything, and it’s fantastic! Having trouble getting that eight hours of sleep? Try drinking some chamomile tea. Does your energy level need a little boost? Try rhodiola. Really … there’s a solution that is definitely worth a try for most aches, pains and uncomfortable situations.
But let me assure you that a pinch of ginger and a lavender sachet will not erase the symptoms of PTSD. Of course, most soothing substances can help bring a bit of calm, but it’s rarely enough to make a drastic everyday difference. An over-the-counter remedy will not likely provide better results than a course of treatment that has been prescribed by a professional. Try offering to listen when having a discussion, rather than offering advice. After all, isn’t that what a therapist is for?
- “Maybe your therapy is making it worse.”
It’s probably a true statement to say that we have all probably had a few misconceptions about therapy and the way it works. Even though we’ve come a long way, some still get this notion that dredging up all of those experiences that were so carefully covered over will do way more harm than good.
However, saying something along those lines to a person with a mental illness is most definitely urging them to take three steps back. And let’s think about this for a moment. Would you encourage someone with a broken arm not to see a medical professional because it might hurt a bit to set the bone? I didn’t think so, which is why it is extremely important that we support those that we love while undergoing treatment, only offering words of encouragement.
As we all become more educated about mental health, we will learn to see the symptoms that a person displays as a part of the illness, not something that they can control or just stop doing at a mere suggestion. The attitude towards those suffering with a mental disorder has really improved, helped in part by celebrities and common, everyday people who are starting to speak up about their own personal struggles. More and more people are reaching out for help, seeing a therapist and utilizing methods to stay engaged in treatment. Learning how to support those that we love as they are going through treatment can only lead to more positive outcomes and a unified, better world. Why not start today?
Angela Ash is a professional article writer and editor, specializing in online content and authoritative blog topics. Her additional therapy-related content may be found at https://mentegram.com/blog. Angela is also the Content Manager for Mentegram, a mental healthcare technology company that is bridging the gap between patients and their therapists. They have helped over 200 therapists provide better care to more than 1,500 of their patients, and she loves sharing experiences that could assist others to do the same.