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.
“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.