Updated: May 5, 2019
On social media, I constantly see posts about awful things people supposedly always say to those who suffer with a mental illness, for example “Snap out of it” or “It's all in your head”. My response to the latter would be, “Well done detective, it´s called a mental illness.” However, this is a hypothetical reply because even though I’ve suffered with poor mental health for 6 years now, not once have I been subject to anything like these. Unfortunately, we live in a blame society and why not blame it on those who don’t have a mental illness? After all, they can probably brush it off, they can take it. The rest of society are constantly portrayed as the enemy rather than those we can reach out to.
I do appreciate that I've been lucky to have a really supportive group of friends, family and girlfriend. Unfortunately, many people do hear these lines all too often, and it must be incredibly difficult. I understand how such comments must aggravate people with MH issues, because if it were as simple as snapping out of it or choosing to be happy, they would have tried it by now. However, as infuriating as it may be to hear, believe it or not, people usually aren't deliberately trying to make you feel worse, they’re trying to help by playing down your feelings and trying to get you to think rationally. Of course, these prescribed solutions aren’t effective, but how would someone who hasn’t experienced a mental illness know any better? They’re trying their best. Before I developed severe anxiety, and depression, I probably would have said the same thing. I also see so many posts, articles and blogs where so-called mental health advocates and “stigma-fighters” think of come-backs to all the awful things that the rest of society supposedly constantly say to them. Some common examples:
“Taking anti-depressants isn't the easy way out, or for fun, I need them to cope”
“To those who say I´m faking it or attention seeking, **** you!”
“Deep thoughts are too complicated for small minds to comprehend”
“Don't tell me to get over it”
Not only do these quotes scare people who wish to open up about their mental health issues by making them assume that a negative, unhelpful response is the norm, it stinks of self-entitlement. We’ve all got our own issues; many people are poor; some endure serious physical illnesses; some are victims of racism, sexism or abuse; and many have incurable cancer, having a mental illness isn’t worse than any other suffering, nor does it give us the right to criticise others or express contempt.
Despite this, the majority of MH social media accounts and blogs are amazing, offering great insights into life with a mental health disorder, excellent advice, tips, self-help methods and much more; I hope they keep up the good work! However, we also need to involve the rest of society into the conversation rather than ostracizing them. For people to help us, we need to help them. The burden of stigma is as much our responsibility as anyone else's, and the stigma is what we should all be fighting, not each-other.
A very important reminder: I have lived, consciously and now openly, with mental illness for 6 years. Not once have I heard one of these phrases, or anything similar. People who I've eventually confided in have been nothing but supportive; sometimes even visibly upset or annoyed that I didn’t tell them sooner. The very worst reaction I’ve ever encountered was an understandable awkward silence.
As a result, in order to prevent all our hard-work going to waste, here are some things we are best avoiding...
(-)Things we should never say to someone without a mental illness:
“You won't get it/You´ll never understand” (You're right because you're never going to explain!)
“**** off” (Will make you lonely quicker than you can say social anxiety)
“I'm fine” (I know you look it, but you're not)
“You're all *****” (leaves a bad taste in the mouth)
Anything that makes us sound better or more entitled than anyone else
Any offensive comebacks to people who are usually trying to help you!
(-)Things we should never say to someone with a mental illness:
“It's all in your head” (There is literally nothing in yours)
“What have you got to be depressed about?” (You!) (… Also, depression is often caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, so even if your life is great and always has been, you can be depressed!)
Happiness is a choice (It's a nice thought, but simply not true)
“You don't look ill...” (no comment)
“You've got a screw loose!” (Where?! Tell me! Is it bad?! I´m going to die)
To flip this on it's head, here are some things we should say...
(+)Things we should say to someone without a mental illness:
The truth ("I can't come out tonight because i feel down, really anxious, have anxiety"- not because "I have no money or nothing to wear")
Explain, explain, explain. Even if you're terrified. Even if that means opening up when you're drunk first, (this worked a treat for me)
(+)Things we should say to someone with a mental illness:
Offering to help: “What do you want me to do?” “Do you want me to come around?” “Do you want me to stay or leave you alone?”
Reassurance: “It won't be like this forever” “We'll get this sorted” “Everything will be okay”
Asking them to explain: “What's it like?”/ “Teach me” / “How does it feel?”
Asking “How are you?” but meaning it and wanting an honest answer. More specific the better so they can't dodge the question- “How’s your insert mental illness going?”
Thanks for reading