Throughout my healing journey from mental illness, I realized there are two kinds of people: People who will deny mental illness and say straight out hurtful things to those who are mentally ill, and people who want to be supportive but what they say is not exactly helpful. So in order to help out, here are 10 things you should not say to anyone struggling with a mental or psychological disorder.
1. Don’t compare them to other people.
I know there are people who may have it worse and I often feel guilty about it. However, telling me to look at other people with bigger problems is insensitive as you are invalidating my feelings. It makes me feel as if I am ungrateful and you are making me suppress my own emotions, which is harmful to me.
2. Don’t tell them, “It could have been worse.”
Telling me that it could be worse does not help me in any way. I am already living through my hardest times and telling me that there is worse makes me feel like I am weak and that my struggle is not validated or understood.
3. Don’t tell them, “It is all in your head.”
No, it is not all in my head. It is my everyday life — it is me waking up every day and struggling to be a functional human. It is depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and things that happen to me that are not in my head nor are they happening to me by choice.
4. Don’t tell them, “You can just snap out of it.”
If I could, I would, trust me. Show me where the button is and I will gladly push it. Mental illness is not something anyone can snap out of; it is a disease like any other disease. It needs professional help, therapy, and sometimes medications.
5. Don’t tell them, “You could have had a physical illness.”
I am aware that I could have had a physical illness, but it does not mean that my situation is not worthy of your empathy. There is no need to compare physical and psychological illnesses. It does no one any good. You do not compare cancer with hepatitis, now do you?
6. Don’t question their faith and tell them to pray more.
While prayers and spirituality, in general, could be helpful to people with mental illness, it doesn’t mean it is the solution. It also doesn’t, in any way, substitute for professional help.
7. Don’t tell them to “ignore it to get better.”
I’ve lived in denial for years, and it only made things worse. Ignoring it doesn’t solve the problem nor does it heal me. When I ignored how I felt, my body started reacting in a form of anxiety, colds, body aches, and many other ways. People with mental illness should seek help as soon as they exhibit symptoms.
8. Don’t tell them, “You need to change your lifestyle.”
I already know that my lifestyle is not healthy. I would very much like to prepare myself healthy meals, work out, and see my friends. However, there are a lot of days when I cannot even get out of bed because of depression, let alone cook for myself or work out. So when you tell me that, it puts a lot of pressure on me and it really makes me feel much worse.
9. Don’t tell them “You need to get better for other people.”
My mental health is a matter that belongs to me and only me. I know that there are people who care about me but it is not my responsibility to get better for them. I am already thinking about how much of a burden I am to them so I do not need you adding this to my worries.
10. Don’t tell them, “You have a great life, be thankful.”
The facts that I have a great life and that I have a disorder aren’t mutually exclusive. I am grateful for everything I have in my life. However, I am suffering from a disease that needs proper treatment and time. I need professional help and time to be able to live with it while being able to enjoy the things I have in life. I am getting there as fast as I can, trust me.
Mental illness is no different than a physical one. Those who suffer from it need your empathy and support. Instead of acting like you know what they need, ask them how you can help and listen attentively to what they say. More often than not, they know what they want you to do. If one of your loved ones suffers from it, research and read how you can support them. Do not just assume that you know what should be said or done. While your intentions may be good, your ignorance is more likely to harm them.