I wrote a post a while ago that focused on what not to say to someone with anxiety, and that post real encompassed things to not say to anyone with a mental illness. And it certainly didn’t cover everything, because there are many, many things that are said to us mentally ill individuals that should not be said, ever. Here are a few more.
“Have you tried meditation?”
Meditation can be a very helpful solution for some, but don’t assume it is a magical, medicine free cure for mental illness. To be completely honest, when I tried to meditate it triggered a panic attack, so no, I don’t meditate. There are different ways to ask this same question, like “what methods have your tried to help?” It will go better, trust me.
“Just Take A Break”/ “Let it go”/ “Distract yourself”
I know this meant to be thoughtful and with understanding, but it clearly ignores the fact that mental illness is not curable with a vacation. Stress is, but stress is temporary. Mental illness is not about cure, it is all coping and managing.
I, personally, hate people trying to show their “knowledge” of mental illness with stats. Sure, it’s the scientific understanding, and good information, but just because you can say numbers to me doesn’t mean I think you really understand. Also, only understanding numbers takes out the people, the human, of mental illness, and we never asked to be statistics. Listing facts is the least personal and least empathetic way to communicate with someone with a mental illness, and we don’t want to hear it.
This might be a personal preference, but I have seen so many people who post on social media photos and quotes along the lines of “your mindset can change a bad day from a good day” or “it’s a bad day not a bad life”. Again, these mean well but they are not intended for the mentally ill. I can’t end a panic attack by thinking “on the bright side”. My depression is not a simple “change of mindset”. Spewing these quotes at me shows a lack of knowledge and experience when directed at mental illness.
“Someone has it worse than you”
Mental illness is not quantitative and shouldn’t be held in comparison to someone else. There is definitely someone out there with much worse illness than myself, but that shouldn’t invalidate my struggle. We’re all different, even if we fit under the same illness. My depression is not the same as someone else’s, and is not worse or better either. Don’t compare one person’s struggle to another.
Avoiding The Topic
Maybe the worst thing you can do is pretend that the mental illness doesn’t exist, or refuse to talk about it at all. It’s different from normalizing mental illness because it reinforces the stigma. Ignoring it won’t make it go away, and when there are severe issues (suicide, self harm, etc.) ignoring it will not cause the issues to happen again or come back. Being open enough to have a conversation, or at least acknowledge the situation, will much better benefit the person and prevent issues from coming back.
If you want to learn more about mental illness, I suggest going to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.