If a friend suffers from mental illness, wanting to help or offer supportive words is understandable. Seeing someone you love in pain hurts your heart, too. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out about a friend’s mental health — but respect and delicacy is paramount. A callous or poorly thought-out comment can cause a spiral or depressive episode for someone with mental health challenges.
Pay attention to your words. These 12 comments might actively damage someone’s mental health — and at a minimum, they won’t help improve their well-being.
“Someone else has it worse off than you.”
Mental illness doesn’t stop just because someone out there suffers more than you. We wish we could tell our brain,
“Things aren’t so bad, comparatively!” Mental illness often doesn’t listen to reason. The world is dark and full of terrors, so don’t make us feel guilty about our own struggles.
“You can do it! You’re so strong.”
Thanks? But strength doesn’t help. Mental illness is a life-long battle, and just because we’ve knocked out the anxiety demon for the day doesn’t mean it won’t come back next week. Praising our strength now may lead to worse lows later, when our mental illness returns and we struggle to loosen its grip.
“Snap out of it.”
Believe us: we would if we could. But if mental illnesses disappeared with a snap of our fingers, why would anyone suffer? Telling us to “snap out of it” can even make our problems worse. When our mental illness doesn’t magically evaporate, we worry we’re disappointing you.
“Everyone gets stressed out!”
Sure, this is accurate. Everyone does get stressed out! But being “stressed out” is not equivalent to “having an anxiety disorder.” Mental illnesses don’t go away when midterms are over — this is something we deal with our entire life.
“You’re making excuses.”
Yes, depression can cause avoidance or tardiness. An anxiety attack might mean leaving a party early. We might miss a date. But the mental illness isn’t an excuse — it’s the cause, and our behavior is the symptom. Saying our anxiety or depression is an “excuse” is like saying the flu is an “excuse” for a nasty cough.
“Why are you still stressed out? It happened so long ago!”
Don’t dismiss the concerns of someone suffering from diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder by reminding them that the event in question happened “a long time ago.” Events in the distant past can loom large in our memory, meaning they don’t feel “long ago” to us.
“Face your fears! You can do it!”
No, we literally can’t — and frankly, it’s not that easy. We’re facing our fears every day. Acrophobia (or a fear of heights) won’t be miraculously cured because we decide to jump out of a plane. And social anxiety doesn’t disappear because we attended our best friend’s birthday party. If we do face our fears, it will be on our own terms, or with a therapist’s care and guidance.
“You’re just looking for attention.”
Actually, the opposite. If our mental illnesses could stop attracting so much attention, that would be great! Please don’t look at a friend suffering from depression and think their tears are just for show.
A mental illness is not a refrigerator. Believe us: We would love to relax. We’d be thrilled if we could tap our heels together three times and suddenly be less high-strung. But requesting we “chill out” might just exacerbate our spiral and lead to more stress — for everyone — in the long run.
“Do you really need meds? Or: Maybe you need meds?”
Are you a doctor? Are you my doctor? Clearly not, because no doctor would suggest we suddenly dump our medication. And if we’re not taking medication, please trust that we’ve fully considered the slate of options, and determined med-free is the best strategy for our specific illness. We want your support, not your unqualified medical opinions.
“Have you thought about what you’re putting your family through?”
All the time. Literally every day. Most people with mental illness struggle with the belief they’re hurting their family, making this guilt trip highly effective. But if you’re hoping to help us overcome our mental illness by invoking our loved ones, think again. All you’re doing is adding weight to our burden.
Yes, practicing positive thought patterns is a valuable treatment for some mental illnesses. But it’s a long process, typically undergone with a therapist’s guidance. If we could “think positively!” on a whim, we wouldn’t have a mental illness, or could at least lessen it’s symptoms. So while your positivity may be appreciated, please keep these thoughts to yourself. Otherwise, you’re adding to the weight that mentally ill people carry every day.
We’re All Working Through Something
The best way to support someone working through mental health challenges is to listen, not talk. We all want what’s best for each other, and are eager to provide any solution to help ease someone’s pain. But suggesting random solutions isn’t always the answer. Sometimes all we need is to know someone cares enough about us to stand by us and understand our issues without judgement.