Things you shouldn’t say to people with mental illness

Mental health has been a hot topic recently, and there are many ways that people view those who suffer from mental illness. The most common mental health problems are: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Whether you know it or not, some of the things you say to people with these disorders can cause more harm than good. Here are the most common things that are said that don’t really help people who suffer from mental illness feel any better.

In response to learning someone has depression: “You should try yoga”, “Have you tried happy thoughts?”, “But you have nothing to be depressed about.”

The issue with suggesting physical activities like hiking or yoga is that depression, especially that which is caused by a chemical imbalance, isn’t that easy to get rid of. It’s not simply feeling sad or blue; it is feeling so hopeless or worthless that the simple tasks of everyday life become challenging, and even waking up can become hard. Depression is not always situational, which is caused by deeply stressful occurences in life, but sometimes is clinical, that which is caused by a chemical imbalance in your brain.

The best way to get rid of situational depression is getting rid of the stressor(s) in your life.

“You don’t look schizophrenic.”

This kind of goes for all mental illnesses.

Of course someone isn’t going to look like they have a mental illness, since mental illness is internal. You wouldn’t say to someone with heart disease that they don’t look like they have a heart disease.

Using “triggered” to describe someone who is upset.

Now, bear with me, because some of you may just think “You’re being too sensitive!”, but the word “triggered” is actually a word used in mental health rehabilitation circles. It’s used commonly in therapy for people who have experienced traumatic events including, but not limited to: sexual assault, abuse, and fighting in wars. Triggers can be certain words, smells, sights, or sounds. When people hear, see, or smell these certain things it will make the individual vividly remember their trauma. Triggers are common in people who suffer from PTSD.

In the case of sexual assault or abuse, triggers can be strange in the eyes of the person who is not afflicted, but that doesn’t make a trigger any less real for the afflicted person. There is no approved list for things that cause people to vividly remember traumatic experiences, since everyone’s brain makes connections differently.

“He can’t make up his mind! He’s so bipolar!” Or anything like that.

Bipolar episodes are not anything like common belief. Bipolar episodes can last up to months with one feeling manic and/or depressed. The switch between the two feelings is not within seconds like commonly believed. So, when you say this, you are trivializing, and minimalizing, a debilitating disorder to just being indecisive.

In response to anxiety: “Just stop being anxious!”

Wow, I’m cured. Do I even need to explain this? Anxiety can’t be controlled like this. No mental illness can be controlled. If it were, don’t you think people who suffer from it would just stop being mentally ill?

“I don’t believe in mental illness.”

Ok, good for you? That doesn’t change the fact that I’m definitely mentally ill. In fact that’s only proved to me that I can’t trust you enough to be able to talk about my mental illness.

“You’re just making it up for attention!”

When you say this to someone you are essentially telling them “I don’t value your feelings enough to believe that you’re actually going through a major problem that affects a majority of the populous, so I’m just going to assume you want attention.”

Trust me, in the case of depression, the last thing depressed people want is to feel like their depression is causing a burden on someone.

As someone who suffers from depression, the treatment of people with mental illness is a very important to me. All I’m asking for is a bit of empathy and understanding. How hard is it to be a decent person?

If you are experiencing any symptoms of mental illness, please contact a doctor, counselor, or adult you trust.

Comments

  1. so much of this resonated with me. wow. this post is so relatable. “you don’t look (insert mental illness here)” actually happened to me recently. “you’re not bipolar–you’re not mean.” by mean, i knew he meant different, crazy, but didn’t want to say those words. his ignorance and inexperience was kind of a downer, but i’m used to people not understanding. i’ve been called fucked up for self harm, and judged really harshly many times. i also think that the word “trigger” has taken on another function–trivializing actual mental health issues. when i use the word trigger, i’m identifying something that caused me to do or feel a certain way. i’m thinking about my reaction, which means that i’m actually taking an action, however small, to get better. when someone uses ” trigger” to make fun of others, they are attempting, whether deliberately or not, to devalue my effort.
    thanks for this post. it was insightful and comforting.

  2. I’m glad this post resonated with you so deeply and I thank you for sharing your experience but am very sorry that you had to experience it. It is very upsetting that people are treated in such a manner and it affects me deeply. I’m very glad this was a comforting read for you and thank you for reading.

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