Since this is our first official Mental Health Monday, I thought I’d start of pretty light.
The following is a list of things you really, really shouldn’t say to a loved one if they suffer from mental illness or mental health issues.
- “It’s all in your head.”
- “Everyone faces challenges. Just deal with it.”
- “You should try changing your diet/working out more/doing yoga/whatever the trendy new vitamin is.”
- “Calm down/Don’t be so sensitive.”
- “Grow up/be responsible/be mature.”
- “You should take more/fewer pills.”
- “Just be positive. Things could be so much worse.”
- “Depression/anxiety/etc isn’t real. You’re just being dramatic/overreacting/trying to get pills/attention.”
- “You don’t look sick.”
We get it. It’s all in our heads. That’s the problem. We can’t escape it.
Scans have shown that our brains are physically different from neurotypical brains. Some diseases affect how electrical impulses move through our brains and bodies, or what areas of the brain use more energy. Some can even cause a loss of grey matter.
“But,” you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with these things? I’m just trying to help.”
First of all, unless you are a medical professional, don’t tell us what treatments we should be using. Upping your B & D vitamins increased your energy levels and improved your mood? That’s great. You bounced back from a severe loss, and only took one day off of work? Fantastic. Good for you.
But please remember that we all cope in different ways. and in the case of mental illness, we want to get better. We want to go do things. But there’s a chemical imbalance somewhere in our brains that makes it impossible. For some, it’s overwhelming panic and fear. For others, depression or even anger.
So unless you have a degree to back up that advice, please keep it to yourself.
Second, most of these statements are belittling in some way. A lot of us have learned how to “pass” for normal. We know what to say to make people leave us alone, because we’re afraid of what will happen if they find out. I myself wasn’t able to get treatment for my anxiety disorder (which I now know I’ve shown signs of since the age of three. THREE) until the age of 23, when counseling for a completely separate issue brought it up. I knew how to act normal and convince everyone I was okay, even when my depression was so bad I considered harming myself, even when my anxiety was so bad I was crying every single day at work or at school and had trouble leaving my room.
You don’t know what’s going on in our heads. And on top of all that, it’s extremely rude to invalidate someone’s feelings, mentally ill or not.
So, if you still want to help, here are some things you can say or do instead.
“What do you need/What can I do?”
I can’t tell you how many times I wished someone would have said this to me growing up, and sincerely meant it.
Sometimes, we need someone to make us laugh, to pull us out of the dark spot. Sometimes, it’s a reminder to breathe, to take things one step at a time.
Sometimes, it’s just a hug.
“I’m here for you/I love you/You mean a lot to me.”
Fear of rejection goes hand in hand with a lot of mental illness, if not all. We become convinced that no one wants to hear about our problems, because we are perfectly aware that what is a mountain range to us is often little more than an anthill to others. Knowing that despite our problems, someone still cares for us means the world.
“It’s not your fault.”
Trust me, we blame ourselves for everything.
Other things that can help? A hug (if your loved one open to physical affection; often, mental illness makes this difficult); an evening watching Netflix with a fluffy blanket, our favorite snacks, and no obligatory chatting; snuggling something soft and fluffy (kittens, dogs, or just a nice plush toy or the aforementioned blanket); a willing ear that doesn’t come with advice or judgement.
The most important things though, are patience and sincerity. We’re trying. We really are, even if you can’t see it. But sometimes, we need someone to meet us halfway. Or 3/4 of the way.
Sometimes, we need someone to offer us a hand before we can get up.
Mental Health Mondays (#MHMon) is a new monthly blog series about creativity and mental health. If you would like to participate in the conversation, check the #MHMon tag on twitter, or click the tab at the top of the page to find out how you can submit a guest post to the blog.