It’s hard to know what to say sometimes to someone struggling with mental health issues.
It can feel like you can’t do right for doing wrong and no matter what you say it doesn’t help. It’s hard. Really bloody hard and it’s easy to be left feeling helpless just trying to say anything to make the person suffering feel better. I get that, the words come from a good place but there are some things that really are better left unsaid.
1. “IT COULD BE WORSE”
You’re not wrong it could be. We could say this of every single person on the planets situations. It could ALWAYS be worse, you could always throw something else in to the mix of a bad situation and make it a total disaster. However, this doesn’t help. It makes someone suffering with mental illness feel inadequate….Most likely on top of what they already do, like they shouldn’t be moaning, like it’s no big deal. It IS a big deal. Mental illness is a total big deal and it can feel like it couldn’t get any worse. If someone is feeling suicidal and those words are spoken believe me, it’s a soul crusher and leaves you feeling like a waste of air.
Everyone experiences things differently, this does not mean that one persons problems are worse than someone else’s just because they are different.
2. “BUT YOU HAVE SO MUCH GOING FOR YOU!!”
Damn it!!! You there! You broke your leg??? What the hell did you go and do that for??!!! you have such wonderful children, a fantastic job that you now can’t drive to and all those things that you had planned that you now can’t attend!!
No more words needed.
3. “YOU’RE SELF HARMING? YOU’RE DOING IT FOR ATTENTION”
NO. I self harmed for many years an did everything in my power to hide it, this is not something people want to showcase and do everything they can to keep it a secret. Self harm is usually to release extreme emotions that we don’t feel can be dealt with in any other way. It’s like a boiling pan bubbling over and the frustration and extreme emotion that goes behind self harm is NOT attention seeking behaviour, it’s the behaviour of someone in extreme emotional turmoil.
4. “YOU JUST NEED TO EAT” (To someone with anorexia)
Please please please do not say this to someone with anorexia. If they could “just eat” they would. They don’t have the inability to eat, contrary to belief as someone who struggled with anorexia for many years we actually WANT to eat – we don’t want the guilt that comes with it, the tortured mind that follows or the weight gain but the food itself we want it, we’re hungry. not hungry – starving – literally.
It’s the anorexic voice that tortures some one with anorexia that makes the physical eating impossible so “just” eating is really not an option and this statement really belittles what what someone suffering with anorexia is going through
5. “PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER”
I’d love to hear how this is supposed to be done. it’s a phrase that really gets my goat. If someone struggling with mental illness could just “pull themselves together” believe me, they would have done it a very long time ago.
Helping people with mental illness can be difficult.
A little care and consideration on how we approach topics related to mental health however goes a long way.
6. “iT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD”
Technically you would be correct. Just absolutely not in the way you think.
7. “YOU LOOK FINE!”
This means nothing. There is a stigma attached to mental health issues that people should look unkempt, not wash, talk to themselves…whatever the misconception may be. Yes these things happen in certain cases but they are by no means the markers of someone with mental health issues.
If i am depressed I will still dress and put on my make up and do my hair right up the the point of feeling suicidal and then the pretence will fall…but I will carry it on up until the point where I am absolutely unable to and usually need to be in hospital. For me doing this is my attempt to to carry on and not give in. That’s me and I don’t want to let go of that because it means that it’s beaten me and I will do my damned not to let that happen but it is nothing more than a facade. It doesn’t mean that actually I haven’t been crossing that road in my nice clothes, make up on and straightened hair thinking “I’m not going to bother looking before i cross – If a car hits me so be it.”
it means nothing.
8. “SUICIDE IS SELFISH”
Suicide is the act of someone in EXTREME emotional pain that can see absolutely NO other way of dealing with it. It hurts so badly that there seems no way out. They just want the pain to stop.
Imagine being in the worst pain you’ve ever been in every second of every day possible for months with NO release, no painkillers – like someone torturing you every minute of every day and as they are pulling your toenails off you are smiling through it and attempting to have a normal conversation. That may sound extreme. Maybe even ridiculous to some but that is the physical equivalent of what it is like to walk around in such emotional torture, the only difference is no one can see it.
Suicide is not selfish, it’s a human response to extreme emotional pain with seemingly no way to make it stop.
9. “YOU’LL GET OVER IT”
It’s not that simple. Can you just get over a broken leg without having it looked at? Nope.
Support and help is needed. We can’t just get over having mental health issues. We can manage them, but we need the support to do that.
10. “SMILE, IT MIGHT NEVER HAPPEN”
This phrase quite literally makes me want to scream. I may be using the broken leg analogy too much here but sod it i’ll use it once more……You’ve broke your leg?? What do you mean you want me to drive you to the hospital?? Get up and walk there on it!!!
It can be hard to know what to say but general open questions than statements of judgements work much better “How are you feeling today?” “Is there anything I can do to help you?” “Would you like to talk about it, I won’t judge you for it” “I’m proud of you for keeping going, i’m here anytime you need to talk” “Would you like to meet up?” “Do you want some company?” “I’d like to help you, could you talk to me about this?”
There’s many things you can say to help someone but be open minded, don’t judge, let them know you are there for them and try to open conversation in a non forceful way to try and get them to open up about what’s going on. It just takes a little thought about what we are saying sometimes before we say it.