Things not to say to someone with a mental illness… a list of our pet peeves, or mine at least, and why.
Because stigma does exist and because without communication, we cannot hope for change.
This list is not inclusive of all the irritating phrases, questions and statements I have heard, it is a taste of what irritates me and others I have spoken to the most.
(comment any others you have or if you agree/disagree with me too?)
Do not suggest, or describe someone who opens up and is honest about their mental health as an attention seeker, drama queen, or anything else in relation to bragging.
It can be really hard for an individual to talk about and be honest about how they are feeling and the impacts their mental health is having on them. Do not make it harder for people to be honest and for people to talk by, belittling and questioning the emotions and feelings they express.
Do not use someones mental health issue, as a way that you define them, but also do not forget that it is a part of them. You can see beyond it without forgetting it is there.
Anyone who has a mental illness is a person before their mental illness, and shouldn’t be defined by it. See individuals as human first, not crazy, mad, or broken?! But also do not forget that they have a mental illness, do not ignore it and dodge it like the plague, do not fear it as a topic of conversation.
Do not be naïve and suggest that someone is not mentally ill but instead, lazy, unmotivated, and not trying hard enough.
Mental Illness can be hard to comprehend if you have never suffered first hand with it but do not question someones mental illness, and/or suggest it is of there doing and their fault. Mental Illness is fatal and is hard to live with, do not make it harder by suggesting to someone it is their fault and they are not actually ill. And it is not a choice.
Do not say you can make it better, or tell someone how to make it better.
Kindness, advice and conversation is appreciated and often greeted pleasantly but does not mean you should be presumptuous and suggest you know the solution, or know what will make it go away. Give advice, and be there, but do not be forceful or overbearing, what is lacking more often than not is people who will simply listen.
Be cautious of what you say, do not contribute to stigma, using mental illnesses as adjectives and avoid saying things such as, ‘at least you don’t have cancer.’
People with mental illness do not require special treatment, however, being aware is always appreciated, for example around someone who has suffered from an eating disorder, sensitivity around summer body images, and diets is appreciated. Also avoiding trivialising mental illness, this should be done all the time, however, it can be a hypersensitive trigger for sufferers themselves. Finally be cautious of phrases such as, ‘there are worse people in the world’, it undermines a health issue that is undermined constantly and doesn’t help.
Do not make them feel pressured or guilty for cancelling plans, or not being able to do certain things.
I can almost guarantee you, that the person who cancelled is already punishing themselves, for being incapable of doing what they had planned. Be compassionate and understanding, and offer alternatives rather than making them feel guilty, and any more incapable than they already do.
Do not assume that they are the same as your sister who has OCD, do not compare mental illnesses or individuals with the same mental illness.
Sometimes you want to think you understand by comparing someone to someone else, however, all individuals with mental illnesses suffer in different ways for different reasons. Share your experience and story and then listen to others stories.
Do not tell someone on medication that they do not need it, or make assumptions that it will be addictive or have long-term impacts.
It is important to recognise that for someone to reach out for help and support and agree to go onto medication, that they are in a state where it is the last resort and ultimately necessary. Do not question this decision, instead, support them and listen. Judgement is not going to make someone feel relaxed or able to talk about their mental illness.
Do not pity them and greet them with apologies or sadness.
People who suffer from mental illness want people to listen, try to understand and comfort them, not feel sorry for them and be over-cautious around them, as if they are weak, and easily bruised. Find a balance, it comes back to ensuring you remember that someone who has a mental illness is human first.
Do not approach self-harm, and suicide with fear, talk about and be rational.
If someone wants to share there current or past experience with self-harm or suicide, listen and act rationally, it is not your responsibility to help. However, do not ignore the subject or respond in a way that reinforces fear within the individual who has been brave enough to share with you. Listen and provide the useful links and alert necessary people, but do not trigger the individual into silence, it is not something to fear. Oh and also, it isn’t contagious!
10 things I have gathered in my mind and from the minds of others I know with mental illness.
Finally, I shall add we all make mistakes and we all say the wrong things now and again. However, if you act with compassion, understanding and love, you can be at little fault.
Today Tomorrow Forever,