When you know a family member, co-worker, or friend with mental illness, it can be hard to know the right thing to say. Mental illness is one of the hardest illnesses for people to understand, and this sometimes leads people to say the wrong things. Often, they mean no harm by the things they say, and they don’t even realize how hurtful their words are to the person struggling. It’s a lack of knowledge and sometimes stigma that leads to this. Knowing what not to say can help prevent hurt feelings and anguish for the person who is struggling.

I have compiled a list of things not to say to someone struggling with mental illness. Here is my list.

  • Take a happy pill. Antidepressants and other medications for mental illness do not automatically make you happy. They help people struggling manage their symptoms, work towards recovery, and stay in recovery. They are very important medications and not a joke. Telling people who are fighting this illness to take a happy pill is an insult. They depend on their medication to make it day by day.
  • Snap out of it. People with mental illness can’t just snap out of their illness just like a person with cancer can’t just wish it gone. It takes a combination of therapy, hard work, and medication to reach recovery. It’s a hard road. It’s not a matter of snapping your fingers and it’s gone. It’s very frustrating and angering to be told to just snap out of it, because if it were that easy the person wouldn’t feel so bad.
  • Think happy thoughts. If happy thoughts could cause mental illness to go away, therapists and psychiatrists would be out of a job. When you’re sick, it’s hard to think happy thoughts, and when you do it doesn’t make those sad feelings disappear. Mental illness is a sickness, and like any other illness you must have treatment and medication to help manage it. This is very frustrating and hurtful to someone who is sick. If it were that easy the person wouldn’t be struggling.
  • What do you have to be depressed about? People with depression, can be sad and not even know why. It’s caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. A person with this illness could have a wonderful family and life, and yet be stuck in deep sadness. There is often no reason other than it’s an illness that the person has no control over. Being told this makes a person feel like no one understands him or her and it’s very hurtful.
  • Have you been in the looney bin? A mental health hospital is not a looney bin. It’s a place to treat people who are very sick with their mental illness. It’s like any other hospital that treats the sick. Many who go in the mental health hospital need extra care and help to deal with their sickness. It is sometimes the safest place for them when their illness sends them down an endless hole. Calling a mental health hospital the looney bin is an insult and it hurts.
  • Watch funny movies. If a person is depressed, watching a funny movie will not make the sadness magically go away. The person could spend endless hours watching funny movies and still feel depressed. A person with this illness often can’t even laugh at such movies. It takes help from professionals for the person struggling to get better. This too is an insult. It’s like you don’t take the illness seriously or the person.
  • Get a hold of yourself. When someone with mental illness is emotional and falling apart, the person can’t just get a hold of himself or herself. The person can’t control the emotions. They are too overwhelming and it’s better for him or her to let them out then hold them inside. Once the emotions get flowing, it’s nearly impossible to stop them. Being told this is like telling them they are not allowed to feel and that is very upsetting.  
  • It’s not a big deal. People with mental illness see things differently than others. What may seem like a small problem to you may be a huge problem for people who are struggling. To them it is a big deal, and they just want to be taken seriously. It hurts to be told the thing that is a big deal to them isn’t. It makes them feel like no one is taking them seriously.
  • It could be worse. For a person struggling with mental illness, it seems like everything is hopeless and nothing could ever make them feel better. To you, things could be worse, but to people with mental illness, they feel like nothing could be any worse then what they is going though. Telling them it could be worse makes them feel like you don’t understand how bad they feel.
  • It’s all in your head. Mental illness and the feelings people are struggling with are not something they made up. It’s not just in their heads. It’s very real and the racing thoughts are no joke. Telling people with mental illness that it’s in their head is telling what they are feeling is not important, and you think they are faking. That hurts deeply.

Instead of saying the wrong thing to your loved ones, research their mental illness. The best thing you can do for someone with mental illness is to listen, give comfort, be supportive, and encourage the person to get proper help. If you can’t think of the right thing to say, then stick to reassuring statements such as these and others

  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “You’re important to me and many others.”
  • “We’ll get through this together.”
  • “You can get through this.”

I have had people say the wrong things to me many times. Their words hurt me deeply. Sometimes they didn’t even realize they hurt me. Educating people allows me to help others and myself. Educating those around me about the things not to say helps me stand proudly in the light of recovery.

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