What Not to Say to Someone with a Mental Illness

Hello, world. Let me start by saying the last 24 hours have not been easy; when it rains it pours. But I’m here anyway and I want to share some important information with you.

I love my friends and family but there are certain things they say when I’m having a breakdown or a mood swing that honestly make things worse. Unless you have a mental illness or have been going through a really rough patch it’s hard to know what to say. Although it’s well-intended most of the time, it doesn’t always read that way. So I’ve compiled what I feel are the worst phrases to say when I’m dealing with my MI symptoms so you can learn how to help your loved one:

1. “Calm down” or “relax”
To be honest, this one is the bane of my existence. The last thing I want to hear when I’m having a breakdown is to calm down or relax. If I was able to do that, I would have done it already. Whether they’re meaning it or not, comes across that they think their words are suddenly going to fix me. Telling me to calm down during an anxiety attack doesn’t make it go away. It has the opposite affect because it makes me feel like I should be able to control their emotions. Words can’t just fix a mental breakdown, period.

2. “Look on the bright side”
While I understand some people are just more peppy than others, when I’m emotional, I do not want to look on the bright side. In fact, I need to cry and be angry and let it all out. I, like many MI people, want to release all the emotions and feel human as odd as that may sound. I know that somewhere there is a silver lining and it will get better but in that moment, I don’t want to hear it.

3. “It could be worse”
When I’m in the middle of an episode I don’t need my loved ones to tell me how other people have it much worse than me. Whether they know it or not, this is probably one of the most damaging phrases because it takes away the legitimacy of my feelings. So many times in my life I’ve had friends and family emphasize that I’m “so lucky” and I “am so privileged.” Those phrases in turn make me feel worse because then I feel like my feelings are invalid and feel guilty for simply having emotions.

4. “You should try yoga/journaling/praying, etc.”
While I believe in yoga, journalizing and praying I know that these things can’t cure or treat my mental illness. It’s not to say that these things aren’t helpful as supplementary things; the truth is mental illnesses cannot be cured, only treated and often in many ways. For years I went on and off of medications and in and out of therapy; I’ve figured out that I do need medication and I am not the same person without it. Mental illness is a physiological and very real illness, and by saying something as simple as a crow pose isn’t going to fix it.

In truth, the best way to support your mentally ill loved one is to be there for them. Let them know that you are trying to understand them and that you are there to listen if they need to talk about it. Recognize that mental illnesses are physiological, not “all in their head.” A mental illness cannot be thought or prayed away. You need to remember that it’s a medical condition that needs treatment by a professional. Mental illnesses are very real and can be burdensome so try to learn more and do what you can to be a support system. Because even when they are in a crowded room they can still feel alone.

Thanks for reading, I appreciate the support and feel free to share this.



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