Seven Things You Should Never Say to Someone Struggling with their Mental Health
It’s about time we dismantle the stigma against conversation surrounding mental health. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, nearly 20% (43.8 million) of adults in the US experience mental illnesses per year. Mental Illnesses are on the rise among teens as well; according to Time, over three million teens [between 12 and 17] experienced a Major Depressive Episode, and two million of those teens reported depression that impacted their day-to-day lives. If someone you know or love suffers from depression, follow this guide, written by someone who’s been there, to avoid triggering further negative feelings:
“What’s wrong [with you]?”
Why This One’s Bad: First of all—and this may sound harsh, but you need to hear it—if there is a reason, it’s really none of your business. Second of all, it can be difficult to pinpoint a specific cause or reason. Sure, sometimes mental health issues can be caused [or exacerbated] by big life events like losing a job, a breakup, or the death of a loved one. But probably just as often, there isn’t a reason or an explanation why some days a depressed or anxious person is bound to their bed, counting the seconds until they’re once again swallowed up by the darkness and other days they seem back to normal. This lack of explanation or reason can be frustrating for a few different reasons: first, if there’s no reason, there’s nothing straightforward to ‘fix;’ second, it triggers a sense of guilt that only contributes to the cycle [if there’s “nothing wrong” with me, why do I feel this way?].
“Have you tried meditation, this vitamin or this drink?”
Why This One’s Bad: Let me save you some time: I have tried every vitamin and supplement, every medication, and every exercise. Now, I get that this one comes from a good place and you just want to help, but chances are someone who has depression or anxiety [or any other mental health issues] has tried every possible remedy to feel better—most likely, to no avail.
“You shouldn’t feel depressed/anxious, there are so many people who have it worse than you do.”
Why This One’s Bad: This might be one of the worst things you can say to someone struggling with their mental health. For one thing, it invalidates their feelings and can isolate them from whatever support system they rely on. These kinds of statements also shift the blame onto the person suffering and can trigger feelings of guilt over something beyond their control.
“I know how you feel.”
Why This One’s Bad: This is another one that probably comes from a good place, but the truth is, you don’t know. Statements like this can shift the focus onto you and your feelings and cause the sufferer to shut down. Instead of empathizing, just listen; be an open ear for them to vent to and confide in [sometimes just getting everything out in the open is an incredibly cathartic experience] or a comforting presence in an otherwise hectic world.
“Just get over it.”
Why This One’s Bad: No, just no. Similar to #3, this one blames the person suffering from depression or anxiety, and suggests they have the power to control or cure their illness whenever they feel like it. Most causes of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are biological—the result of chemical imbalances, misfiring neurons, or other medical issues [cancer, stroke, etc.]. Factors like this are obviously out of their control, and even efforts taken to heal [like taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications] can yield disappointing results. You wouldn’t tell someone suffering from cancer or cerebral palsy to “just get over it,” why should mental illnesses be any different?
“You’re not the same” or any variation of “Have you thought of how hard this is on me?”
Why This One’s Bad: This should go without saying, but this isn’t about you. Chances are, they know they aren’t the same and feel bad enough about it without you piling on the guilt and accusations. If your primary concern is how someone else’s mental health struggles are affecting you, then you’re probably not a very good friend [or at least, not a very good support system].
Why This One’s Bad: It’s understandable that you might want to give them some space, but don’t be completely absent. People with depression or anxiety can have a hard time reaching out [often because they don’t want to be a burden]. So, call them and ask them how they’re doing. Send them a funny meme or a picture of a pretty flower that reminded you of them. Text or email them to say you’re proud of them for being so strong, and tell them you’re there if they need anything. Invite them out; even if they decline, I promise it will make them feel better to know they were wanted.