I wanted to create this post because after experiencing mental illness myself I know how it feels when someone (unbeknown to them) says something so blasé yet it can actually cause more harm than good and even trigger deeper/darker thoughts.
On the other hand, I also know that it can be incredibly hard and frustrating to talk to someone with a mental illness so I thought sharing some tips on what you could say to help support that person may also help.
So here goes (please excuse my crappy doodles):
WHAT NOT TO SAY WITH SOMEONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS:
1.) “You look well”
My heart sinks a little inside when I hear someone say this.
I think the reasons why are not purely down to self-image and the fact I associate ‘looking well’ with looking fat but it’s also because if someone is genuinely feeling broken inside and someone tells you this – how on earth do you tell them otherwise?
That’s the thing with mental illness – you can’t always see it! So please do not assume that just because someone looks healthy and happy that they actually are because you may have just crushed that person insides and created a whole new storm inside their head.
2.) “I know how you feel/You are not the only one who has experienced this.”
Having a mental illness means that most of the time you become self-absorbed within your own mind and believe that whatever you are experiencing is unique and no one can understand how you must be feeling.
One of the things that has frustrated me the most when trying to explain my feelings is having someone say ‘I know how you feel’ I just want to scream and shout ‘YOU DONT F**KING KNOW HOW I FEEL” even though rationally I know they are probably right.
It’s just not helpful to hear this and can make the person feel guilty and that their feelings are worthless/meaningless.
3.) “There are worse people off than you”
This is obvious I would hope. Again, rationally I know the person saying this with the best will in their heart is right but when you have a mental illness and you hear this – it only adds to the self hate, worthlessness and guilty feelings they already have about themselves and it’s just not helpful.
You may be thinking – well what can I say? So now I will try to give some advice on some things you can say which I personally have found helpful and supportive. Sometimes it’s not even words its actions which shows that someone cares.
WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY TO SOMEONE WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS:
1.) “Are you ok?”
Show you care, that you know the person may be going through something right now and you want to check that they are ok.
2.) “Can I come with you to….?”
Having a mental illness can be incredibly lonely at times and just having someone come and ask you to go somewhere with you on a usual trip/journey or routine is really nice. I am lucky to have a big brother who seems to recognise when I need to talk and he always asks me to come on my routine walk on an evening and it really helps.
3.) “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care and want to help – is there anything I can do? “
Again, show the person that what they are experiencing is genuine and unique to them. Sometimes you want people to know that you have an illness and that you are not just ‘having a bad day’. Mental illness is real and showing that you understand this is more than enough.
Sarah Richelle X
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