Author Note: This article is part of a collection from the previously lost Bordering Bears website, and has thus been re-uploaded and archived.
Mental health is prevalent, in the media and society. People who are struggling want support, without judgement. Here are 10 top tips on what NOT to say to someone who is currently struggling.
1. Cheer up
Someone who has mental health problems isn’t simply “a bit sad”. They can’t just switch it on and off, or think happy thoughts to make their problems go away. “Cheer up” trivialises their medical condition and may also create distance between you and your loved one, which could ultimately stop them from confiding in you in future.
2. Go for a walk
Other than a leg cramp or pins and needles, what kind of illness can be solved by going for a walk? If your loved one is suffering, chances are that they are doing their best already and CAN’T go for a walk. We get that fresh air and exercise are good, but in that moment it can be too much. It’s also a little insulting, especially when we’ve tried a lot of the “normal” advice. Please try not to utter these words.
3. Grow up
Mental illness has NOTHING to do with your age or maturity. Some people can have mental illness in childhood, others when they’re in their adult years. Mental illness isn’t the same as being immature, and just because a person is showing deep upset or other negative emotions does not mean they are being childish. This myth surrounding mental health is toxic at the very least.
4. Stop looking for attention
This one, at least in my experience, is quite common. People mistake cries for help for simple attention-seeking. Likewise, people may also relate this to any self-harming behaviour. Chances are, your loved one doesn’t want mere attention, but is struggling with their illness and needs your love and support, not condemnation.
5. It’s all in your head
Yes… funnily enough a mental illness IS in your head, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Sometimes, people say this and it can feel like we are perceived as daydreaming or making up all of our feelings. Remember, mental illnesses are serious medical conditions.
6. Other people have it worse
Yes, the situation your loved one is in may seem, at least to you, not as bad as some of the horrors in the world right now, but remember it is still a situation that the person is going through. This phrase ultimately says “your emotions are invalid” and can do a great deal more harm than good.
7. Get over it
Mental illness isn’t like some break-up where you get over it and move on. It can be long-term or even lifelong. The person struggling cannot simply “get over it”. It’s been asked time and again, but, if you saw a person with cancer, MS, ME or another seemingly invisible illness struggling, would you simply tell them to get over it? If not, then don’t apply it to mental illness.
8. Be grateful for what you do have
Yes, we are aware we have a lot to be thankful for in life. Mental illness isn’t about kicking up a fuss because we haven’t got a bigger house, nicer car or the latest games console. Mental illness is about a problem within the brain that affects how we think and feel. Again, relate this to another serious illness and if you wouldn’t say it to that person, don’t say it to someone with a mental illness either!
9. Stop being selfish
Your friend/family member probably isn’t being selfish. If they need time for self-care, that is also not selfish. It is impossible for ANY person to continue day-to-day without even a little self-care, otherwise they’d risk a burnout. For someone with mental illness, they may need more frequent self-care to be able to regulate and maintain. Rather than see the person as selfish, perhaps instead praise them for their hard work and not giving up!
10. You need a hobby
Perhaps I do, however it probably won’t affect how I’m feeling. Mental illness isn’t something that can be switched off like a TV. It’s there with you all the time, at work, when you’re asleep, in the shower. Getting a hobby will most likely just be another thing that the illness is present at. Instead, support your loved one to seek professional advice or help if your loved one is struggling.
Support and kindness will go a long way to helping your loved one with their struggle.