One of my fears in talking about my mental health is knowing that some people might treat me differently because of it. The thought of someone interacting with me in a way that was shaped by their own personal prejudices or ideas about what a person with a mental illness looks like is depressing.
I realised that I can’t remove the ignorance that has surrounded mental health in our world. What I can do, however, is help those who don’t know very much about it learn to see it as something that does not make someone any less of a person, or 'different' in the ways one might assume.
It is very easy to allow our opinions to be guided by societies ignorance and prejudice. These opinions often dictate how we treat those who suffer. One of the most significant parts of this treatment is in how we talk to those who are mentally ill. Our words have the power to hurt and destroy or help and heal.
For this reason, it’s crucial to educate yourself about what things to say or not say. It is as serious as the difference between healing and hurting.
Here are 10 examples of things you should not say to someone struggling with a mental health condition:
1. “It could be worse.”
This is true. For every single human being alive right now. Lost your job ..? Your family ..? Wrecked your car? Well, so-and-so did too and was diagnosed with a life threatening illness and accidentally ran over their cat. So don’t be sad because that didn’t happen to you and it could have.
See what I’m getting at here ..?
The intention behind these words is not what I question, it’s the thought-process behind it. Because other people’s problems that are worse than mine does not make my own easier to live with. And the idea that I am complaining when 'there are people who have it so much harder' than me, makes me feel guilty for feeling anything in the first place.
2. 'It’s just a season of life that we all go through.'
We all go through this ..? Does that mean you have..? So you know what it feels like to not be able to trust your own mind and not want to get out of bed or be around people or take meds that make you feel weird sometimes ..? You know how it feels to believe your life maybe isn’t worth living ..? If so, tell me more about that ... because maybe you know a way to get through it that I haven’t already thought about.
3. 'You need to let it go.'
Really ..? I didn't think it could be so easy ..! Should I just go sleep it off ..?
4. 'Go treat yourself and take your mind off of it ..!'
Oh how nice, I'm sure a massage right now will do me perfectly ..!
5. 'You have so much to be happy about, why can’t you just focus on those things ..!'
This drives me crazy. Those who suffer from a mental health issue are not ungrateful or not thankful for what they have. Depression, for example, makes it hard to feel any pleasure. There is actually a scientific term for it, anhedonia - which literally means the inability to feel pleasure. So while thankfulness and gratitude are good things, they are not cures for mental ailments.
Though I certainly wish they were.
6. 'But you always seem so happy, how could you be struggling so much .?'
Yes, and that is because I am terrified of what people will think if they know what feelings I have deep down inside and what is going on in my head. Wearing a mask is easier than being real. Just because I smile and laugh a lot and tell stupid jokes doesn’t mean I am not internally suffering or struggling.
7. 'It’s the devil that’s doing this to you.'
I don't think the intention is bad, but ultimately, it all boils down to this: how will telling someone the devil is wreaking havoc in their life make them feel better ..? The answer is that it probably won’t. It doesn’t make the pain go away or hurt any less.
8. 'You need a new hobby.'
Great idea. Because despite how draining my emotions are and the symptoms of my condition can be at times, I totally have the energy to start knitting or playing the guitar. Who knew getting over a mental illness could be so easy ..?
9. 'It’s because you’re on medication, you should stop taking those pills.'
Those who suffer from a mental illness are not people who deserve to be treated differently or with scrutiny or judgment or pity. We deserve to be treated and talked to like everyone else, even in moments of weakness. Because at the end of the day, we are people with hearts and minds and dreams and hopes that matter and are important and worthy of being noticed on their own, separate from the things that are going on internally, and recognised with love and respect. And that just may be the very thing that can make more of a difference for someone who is struggling than anything else.
Until next Monday,