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Five Things You Should Never Say To A Person Living With Mental Illness

A person living with mental illness gets hurt by even the simplest responses. Here are the things you should avoid telling them!

We cannot be cautious about our words all the time. There are moments when we like to blurt out whatever comes to our mind. But we should be careful with our words and comments while dealing with people living with mental illness and disorders as they are already in a vulnerable place. It is difficult to know what can hurt a depressed person, as a matter of fact, they can get hurt even by your simplest responses. Hence it is necessary to educate yourself about what we should avoid saying.

Five Things You Should Never Say To A Person Living With Mental Illness

“Why the hell do you keep sad all the time don’t you want to get better?”

Mental illness is not a choice, it is a medical condition that can happen to anybody. Asking a person dealing with mental problems that whether they want to come out of the situation can be very hurtful as he can take it as an allegation that he is staying sick on purpose, and is not at all interested in pursuing health.

“The problem is your attitude.”

Yes, it is right that we can win even the most difficult of battles if we take it head-on with the right attitude. But mental illnesses like ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD or schizophrenia are medical conditions that need proper treatment and therapies. Changing attitudes is neither easy nor of much help in such conditions.

“Why do you even think about the bad stuff, just forget it try to live your life to the fullest.”

Memories settle deep in our hearts and mind. It is not possible to forget them. A normal healthy person won’t be able to do this then expecting this from a person living with mental problems is not logical. Moreover, when they see that they can’t do it they take it as another sign of their failure and can feel even worse about themselves. 

“Its just sadness, you can easily come out of it. All of us feel sad sometimes.”

Everyone goes through various experiences and deals with myriad emotions in their life. We all may feel sadness, happiness, anger, and excitement according to what we see or experience. But sadness and depression or mental illnesses should not be taken as one and the same thing. Sadness or despair is just one aspect of mental illness.

“I can feel your pain.”

We often find it difficult to find the right words to express our true feelings but the situation becomes worse with a depressed person. Knowing what not to say to someone with mental illness can make the situation a bit easier for us. 

For example, you would say, " I can feel your pain" to express your sympathy to someone who is facing some difficult time in their life. But the same words would not go down well with an individual living with mental illness as he/she will take it as snobbery. You may come across as someone who is trying to trivialize the complexity of their situation, even though you clearly don't intend to do so. These simple words will not be inspiring for them. 

What should you say then? It is better to express your compassion than to show your sympathy with those who are depressed. Hence, replace "I can feel your pain" with "I don't know how you are dealing with it, it must be very difficult for you!"

"But I see you smiling all the time”

Looking happy is different from feeling happy. Those who smile all the time are not necessarily content with their life. They might be feeling hurt even if they look cheerful whenever you meet them. No doubt, this phrase is neither mean and nor is sarcastic but it definitely falls in the category of 'What not to say to someone with mental illness.' This simple phrase can make them feel that their depression is not real. 

Should One Keep Silent Then?

Never! Silence is actually the worst response and can easily be taken as negative and disapproving. The helpful responses are:

Express your sincere concern. Tell them that you can understand their problem and have heard how bad these panic attacks or stress can be.

Show your support by telling them that they can ask you for help and that you are always there for them.

Talk to them in your usual manner so that they can feel that your relationship with them is stable and their mental issues don’t lessen their value in your life.

Your little caution with your words is a good habit, we should practice more of it. 

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Do you know that bureaucratic thinking is distorting our perceptions and thus becoming a significant contributor to mental illness in society?

When people have any mental illness, the medical profession puts them into boxes and various categories according to their behaviour and symptoms. It does not necessarily mean the doctors understand what is going on inside the person's mind. They will counsel and advise as best they can according to their personal experience and knowledge, and then it is for the patient to come to terms with the problem. But if the patient has no insight into his mind, then no doctor can help that individual except give him drug therapy. So when we are treating a person with a mental illness, what we are trying to do is help the person change his perceptions with psychotherapy and-or drug therapy.

In my mind, I see mental illness only as a disorder of perception. It is the degree that determines the level at which it becomes a clinical disorder of behaviour and action. Hence, a doctor must clear up his perceptions first before he can offer any mental health advice to a patient. If the doctor's perceptions are the same as the patient's, then how can he possibly help that individual? Therefore, acquiring self-knowledge and learning to understand the thinking process is most important for any health professional. We have to learn how to turn a negative perception into a positive one.

In my mind, there is no such thing as a broken heart or a traumatic experience that lasts forever. All experiences in life are meant to make you a better and wiser person by teaching you a lesson in life. Therefore, all experiences in life, good or bad, are eventually good for you. That is my perception and observation. So if a patient comes to me for help, what I will try to do is help him change his perceptions and help him to come to terms with the experience. Of course, if the patient has no desire to change or help himself, then obviously my help will be minimal.

Just labelling a person as suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, PTSD, etc. does not change his perceptions. All it does is give him justification for continuing with his present state of mind? For example, he will say that "At last, the doctors have found something wrong with me. I now have ADHD".

In my mind, bureaucratic thinking which is the main base of governments and institutions all over the world is a principal factor contributing to the mental ill-health of people today. It is turning all of us into zombies. Bureaucratic thinking is simplistic thinking applied to control and regulate people.

Please let me give you some examples. Some time ago, in a small country town, I was approaching a T junction from a side street in my car. There was a stop sign. As there was no traffic on the road, I slowed the car and turned in. A traffic cop, waiting on the opposite of the road, hailed and stopped me. He asked, "Did you see the Stop Sign?". I said, "Yes." I had broken the law. Stop means stop, and he booked me for the offence.

Can you see here how only the letter of the law was applied? There was no use of common sense or consideration of traffic conditions on the road. No deep thinking, moral or ethical approach was in the police officer's mind. There can be no argument with what he did. He was only doing his job.

Let us look at the law that prevents parents, teachers and police from disciplining children. Here again, they literally follow the letter of the law. You cannot give any corporal punishment. However, when the kids are out of control, one can use whatever force necessary to contain them. Is there any use of any common sense in this? Violence is not permitted in one instance, but it is OK to use force in the next. This type of contradiction is bad for mental health. It creates confusion in mind and sends wrong messages to children as well as adults.

From the above, you must see that bureaucratic thinking has great limitations. There is no consideration for ethics, common sense or reason. It is just a plain, simple application of the letter of the law. One can see it affects our mental health and behaviour. It makes us feel intellectually handicapped. So you must think the medical profession would be the first fighting against this type of thinking. Right?

Wrong. These professionals who should be helping us clear up our perceptions are themselves suffering from a disorder of perception. They have themselves become bureaucrats who are trying to con the public into thinking that we are practising a high standard of medicine by having a bureaucratic QI & CPD (Quality Improvement & Continuing Professional Development) system. Nothing can be further from the truth.

In this system, a doctor is given points to take part in certain educational activities. He is required to attain a minimal number of points in three years, after which he is given a certificate of completion. This certificate qualifies him for further registration with the medical board and implies that he has met the standard required of him. Does it now mean that this doctor is currently practising a high standard of medicine? You would be very naive indeed to think that way.

In my mind, it is the individual doctor's ethical approach to his work that sets the standards in medicine. One may attend as many lectures, and hold as many certificates as one may like, but if one has no ethics and feelings towards his fellow beings, you might as well say goodbye to standards.

It is time for the medical profession to stop indulging in bureaucratic thinking and examine the role it should be playing in society. It should protect society from bureaucratic thinking, not become part of it. If we become part of the problem, how can we solve it? There must be an ethical approach to raise standards in medicine. Applying bullying and coercive measures is not the way to go. They are the same techniques of modifying behaviour used when I was a kid at school. The teacher will say "You will not be allowed to go home until you bring me one hundred lines "I must not talk in the classroom". I wonder whether we have progressed or regressed?

Please read the "The Enchanted Time Traveller - A Book of Self-Knowledge and the Subconscious Mind" to learn about your perceptions and thinking. Please do not become a zombie. For raising standards in medicine, it is always the singer, never the song. Visit Website:

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