Living with mental health problems isn’t easy. It’s usually a lonely road filled with anxiety and pain. Support in form of family and friends is crucial, but it’s not always easy for loved ones to know what to do or say in certain situations in order to help. At times, things said can even be counter-productive.
Before you’ve experienced mental illness first hand it’s hard to understand just how sensitive many of us are, and how important it is to speak with care. Prejudices are easy to come by, and I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of having them as well. There was a time when I thought PTSD was something only war-veterans could have, or that suffering from Schizophrenia equalled being crazy “for real”. Saying you’re OCD also seems to be one of those common phrases people tend to mis-use. Having OCD doesn’t mean you like to arrange your shoes by color. OCD, Obsessive Compulsory Disorder, is a serious anxiety disorder and term that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly. We’re all responsible to educate ourselves, to talk to the people around us and try to understand.
I thought I’d list some of the most common comments people who suffer mental illness receive from the public and why they are inappropriate:
1. “Oh come on, it could be worse!”
The neighbour lost their family dog, or the colleague was diagnosed with cancer or a bomb struck in Syria. Terrible things happen in the world every day. That doesn’t mean that people who suffer from depression or other illnesses aren’t entitled to their emotions and thus deserve to have their feelings and experiences belittled.
Mental health issues usually have no real triggers. It’s not something that is easily controlled. By comparing lives, you also run the risk of making the mentally ill person feel even worse due to guilt for feeling a certain way. It’s important to remember that illnesses are fact illnesses and not an attitude.
2. “Just snap out of it.”
If it only was that easy. Yet this seems to be the most commonly used comment. Telling somebody to just snap out of it is dismissive, and basically means that they should ignore, or endure, their pain.
3. “It’s all in your head.”
Technically that is correct. Mental illnesses are “in your head”, but not in the way this comment is usually intended- as something imaginary that the sufferer has chosen. This attitude also trivialise the physical symptoms that often comes with mental illness such as disturbed sleep, muscle pains, tiredness and weight loss or gain.
4. “You’re just lazy.”
Some individuals with mental health problems may come across as lazy, especially those who suffer from depression where the energy-levels are affected. Before making any such statements you first need to take into account how ill that person really is. ”Lazy” is a character trait, not a symptom of an illness.
5. “Everyone is a little depressed sometimes – it’s normal.”
It’s not unusual to hear people refer to themselves as depressed while in reality they are simply feeling down for a couple of days. Everybody feel down, or have mood swings at some point. That is normal. But there’s a distinct difference between being depressed and feeling down, though. If a depressed person constantly hears that what they’re feeling is normal they are less likely to get the help they need. Be careful.
6. “You are like your father/mother.”
We can’t help but to take after certain family members. To unintentionally mimick their habits or behaviours. However, saying things such as “you’re like your mother” or “you’re like your father” while the person endure intense stress is not a very wise thing to do. Usually this is said in a negative manner and being likened to a parent and their flaws bring extra stress and can escalate behaviours.
7. “Look how lucky you are. Be thankful!.”
This is such a big misconception. I am thankful for what I have. That doesn’t help depression though. Depression has biological factors and needs to be treated just like any other sickness. You wouldn’t say “You’re lucky as well, so stop sneezing”.
8. “Happiness is a choice!”
As if somebody would choose to purposefully not be happy?
9. “You just need to try harder.”
Since mental illness is usually invisible, it often doesn’t show how hard the person is actually trying. Then hearing somebody tell you you’re not trying hard enough when you’re already giving it your best can be extremely insulting and very frustrating.
10. “You should get out more.”
The problem here is that the symptoms of depression and many other conditions include lack of motivation and fatigue and are probably the reason the person is at home in the first place. If he or she felt well enough to go outside, then they probably wouldn’t be depressed.
Many of these comments are usually said with good intentions, but unless you truly understand the nature of these mental health conditions there’s a good chance you’re doing more harm than good. Save the advice and instead give your love and support as they recover with the help of professionals.
As usual, thank you all for reading! Please, comment, share and subscribe.