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Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say

I feel, sometimes, that I am at war with the mentally-well world. This isn’t to say that many of them aren’t lovely or that I have a desire to harm anyone, but I do feel embroiled. And it’s mostly because the well population just doesn’t understand what it is to be unwell. They demonstrate this heartily by repeatedly saying the worst things possible to a person with a mental illness.

Worst Things to Say to a Person With a Mental Illness

Some people say the worst things possible to a person with mental illness and minimize mental illness. Read and see what I mean.Here are some of my favorite worst things to say to a depressed person or really anyone with a mental illness.

  1. Snap out of it
  2. There are a lot of people worse off than you
  3. You have so many things to be thankful for, how can you be depressed?
  4. You’d feel better if you got off all those pills
  5. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
  6. Go out and have some fun
  7. I know how you feel
  8. So you’re depressed, aren’t you always?
  9. This too shall pass
  10. We all have our crosses to bear

And as a bonus, my personal favorite: We create our own reality.

Ugh. (I’m not the only one thinking about this, check out the worst things to say to anxious people.)

Why These are Stupid Things to Say

Any of those statements shows that you have no idea what you’re talking about. You fundamentally do not understand the concept of a mental illness if you think any one of these are appropriate. I suggest trying it with other physical health problems and see how you feel:

Hey, diabetic, snap out of it.
Hey, epileptic, I know how you feel.
Hey, paraplegic, so you can’t use your legs, isn’t that always the case?
Hey, person with multiple sclerosis, we create our own reality.

You get the idea. No one would think that is reasonable, and it’s no more reasonable just because you can’t see the illness because it’s in my brain.

These Are Hurtful Things to Say

And perhaps worse than showing ignorance, these things even inflict pain on the person you’re trying to “help”. You are saying that:

  1. They could choose not to be sick if they really wanted
  2. Their illness is not serious
  3. They have no “reason” to be ill
  4. Their treatment is wrong
  5. They’ll be better off from it
  6. They would be fine if they would just “go out”
  7. Their illness is minimal
  8. Their pain doesn’t matter
  9. They should just wait for the pain to end
  10. Their illness is just like anyone else’s problem
  11. They choose to be sick

Again, I dare you to tell a person with any other illness any of those things.

And lest we forget, the mentally ill person in front of you is already probably feeling very bad about themselves, and you have chosen to go and make it worse.

Let’s Not Forget, People Die From Mental Illness

Here are the worst things to say to a person with mental illness. Isn't it time you stop minimizing mental illness?The idea that mental illness is serious isn’t something that I made up, it is a fact. Estimates are 1 in 5 people with bipolar disorder commit suicide and 1 in 2 people (yes, that’s half) attempt it. And, of course, there are hospitalizations, work absences, destroyed families, having to go on disability, and so on. This is serious stuff people. It is not a runny nose.

Why Do People with Mental Illness Have to Justify Themselves?

Why is it that just because I see a psychiatrist and you see a neurologist your disease is real and mine is not? Why is it you assume I can will my disease away while you can’t? Why is it that you can expect me to bring you chicken soup when you get the flu but when I get sick I can’t even expect that you’ll stick around?

I do understand that people don’t know they are being hurtful. People are trying to help. I get it. But here’s the thing, my illness is just as real as anyone else’s. Please stop forcing me to convince you.

Update: Check out the best things to say to someone with a mental illness.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

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220 Responses to Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say

  1. Renita says:

    While it may be insensitive to say some of these things when someone is really struggling with a mental illness or whatever else in life for that matter, you also have to admit that with some of these sayings there’s also a ring of truth to them, such as with

    There are a lot of people worst off than you… It’s true there are. You may not appreciate hearing that but that’s a fact. It doesn’t help to focus on your problems 24/7. There other people in the world who are are also struggling to survive in varying degrees

    We all have out crosses to bear. It’s true we do, of course not all the same type of crosses and the weight of those crosses is different for everyone.

    You have so many things to be thankful for… Think about it. Is there nothing in your life that you’re thankful for?

    This too shall pass. While not true for all people, some people do end up in remission. And while it may take a long time to find relief in the right cocktail of medications, many do. It’s important to not lose hope

    I know how you feel… As evidenced through shared experiences here some of us actually do know how you feel, at least in part. There are millions and millions of people all over the world who struggle with mental illness. Some of us are a little more private about it than others

    While some of the things that people say can be perceived as thoughtless or even mean spirited I also think that some people really do care and truly think that they are helping when they say some of these things. I also think that many people simply don’t know what to say to someone who is ill, so they speak from their own experience which may not be your own.

  2. Renita says:

    If you want people/care givers to stick around geesh, give them a break. It’s no wonder they feel like they are walking on eggshells around us… We are not the only people who suffer

  3. Renita says:

    I know that it’s hard sometimes when I’m really sick to remember that it’s not only me that suffers and try’s to get my needs met but also my friends, family and coworkers too. It’s human nature to be selfish. Relationships are hard to maintain when they are unevenly balanced. That’s a sure breeding ground for anger, frustration and resentment to set in. Nobody’s perfect but I do try to keep things in perspective.
    I try to give back where and when I can but sometimes I’m just so damn exhausted that either the fight or flight response kicks in

  4. Renita says:

    I also happen to agree with the line that “we also create our own reality” at least in part. That’s true for just about everyone. Shit happens to all of us but we also have a choice in how we deal with it. Like the Serenity Prayer says accept the things you can not change and change the things you can. You are never completely powerless even though it may seem that way. You have some choices in how you shape your life.

  5. Renita says:

    While it may seem like I’m trying to minimize mental illness really I’m not, well at least that’s not my intention. I’m just trying to put things into perspective. And to be quite honest I’ve heard a lot worse things mentioned before

    My mother always used to say to me… There will always be people worse off than you and there will always be people better off than you in the world. (This holds true even in the relm of mental illness itself). In my deepest depths of bipolar 1 manic depression and despair I realized this was true and it gave me hope. All you have to do is watch the TV news to know your life could be considerably worse.

    When I struggled with an eating disorder I understood on some level what it must be like for the people I’d see on TV literally starving to death in Africa and it made me have more compassion for the poor or homeless who were needy and hungry enough to have to use the services of a soup kitchen or food bank. Although my experience was vastly different from theirs I felt an odd kinship. It’s hard to explain

    When I was molested by a relative as a kid I had some understanding of what it was like to be a prostitute. Again our experiences are quite different but at the same time simular too

    And when people say to me now, I know how you feel, I understand its all about degrees and individual life experiences. Any person that has ever experienced sadness, grief, unipolar depression or bipolar depression has at least some idea of how I am feeling when I say I’m depressed. Or anyone who has ever drank pots and pots of caffinated coffee, suffered from hypomania as in bipolar 2 or mania as in bipolar 1 has at least a clue of what it’s kind like to be manic.

    The point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t usually let these type of comments bother me, I’m pretty thick skinned but of course that’s just me. I use it as an opportunity to educate others about how I’m truly feeling instead of staying wrapped up in my own little world. People aren’t mind readers

    Things are constantly changing in life whether we like it or not so in this regard there is some credence in the saying that ‘this too shall pass

    When I’m feeling particularly depressed, expecially about finances, sometimes I make myself a gratitude list. It can be so easy for me to get caught up in that poor me mentality… Nobody really understands what I’m going through

    As you can tell I’ve been feeling rather manic these past few days. Sorry about all my ramblings. I promise to make this my last post for a while…

  6. Matthew Hyde says:

    Im unsure if some of the replys truly understand mental health injurys. Depression from bad things happening is just feeling sad(mostly). When Im severely depressed, you could give me £100000 and I would still be unable to get out of bed.

  7. Renita says:

    I understand ‘mental health injuries’ just fine, but I don’t let the so called ‘worse things to say to a mentally ill person’ bother me too much because I realize most people in my life are generally well meaning. I also realize that they will never fully understand this illness because they don’t live with it like I do so I don’t hold their feet to the fire because of it

    I’ve always been a very independent person, I never wanted to have to rely on anybody for anything, but this illness has definately taken it’s toll. I’m fortunate that I’ve still managed to get by even after 3 involuntary hospitalizations. I’m considered high functioning which is both a blessing and a curse because more is expected from me. I’m very good at hiding the negative symtoms most of the time. Family members, friends and even co-workers have seen me at my worst and they have also seen me fight my way back to some semblance of health again. I’m fortunate that where I work there is an employee assistance program I also have an aunt who is a psych nurse and a very compassion best friend who has spent years looking after a mentally ill mother. I’ve learned the hard way not to burn them out with my neediness because they also have commitments of their own

    I don’t have kids or a husband to rely on and because of my unbridled manic spending sprees pre-diagnosis/medication I have been unable to afford my own place or even a car after working 33 years for the same agency

    Just the other day I had the apartment manager slip a note under my door saying he’d need access to my suite the following day. I panicked. I didn’t get it until early evening so I only had a limited amount of time to clean up the HUGE mess in my apartment. I didn’t want to get chewed out by the apartment manager and I was too ashamed of the mess to ask anyone over to help out so I had to find a way to suck it up and do it myself. I was also suffering from a knee injury. After I was finished balling my eyes out wondering how I was ever going to get it done I made myself a very large pot of coffee and went at it cleaning my apartment. I washed 2 or 3 dishes then rested for exactly 15 minutes then forced myself to get up again and vacuum a small patch of floor then rested again for exactly 15 minutes and continued on with this process until early morning when I had to go to work. It wasn’t cleaned to perfection but it passed the test. Then when I got home I immediately crashed on the couch because I didn’t have the energy to make up the bed with sheets. This is just a very small glimmer of what I deal with every day

  8. Amanda says:

    What I find really annoying is
    What about if you did some exorcise, got a little job, changed you diet, do meditation, wheat for a walk
    And any other number of things to try and help.
    I know they are just trying to help but I’m 45 I’ve been diagnosed for 25 years I’m intelligent well read and in relatively good control of my illness. What they are saying is actually really patronising.
    What I want to here is good god well done for surviving that and not only surviving it but making the best of what is undoubtably the shitty end of the stick.followed buy a big sincere hug and a your amazing.

  9. Gail Feliciant says:

    One of the ones that drives me nuts is when someone thinks that they can “fix” me, like I’m “broken” or something. I’m not broken. I am myself. Thanks for this blog!

  10. Jim Buchanan says:

    One of the most hurtful things I’ve been told, by a loved one btw, was, “You really weren’t suicidal, if you had been, you would have succeeded. You just wanted attention”

  11. Sandra Cobban says:

    My sister would say when I was in depressed state why don’t you take a bath?
    Or you live like a mole,open the curtains in here?
    Fucking Pollyanna – type remarks…useless only made things worse

    I’d love to clean up,but no energy_depression.
    I’m a big believer if you’ve not walked in someone’s shoes…no amount of studying…is quite
    the same,now,is it?

    Or let’s go get a cup of tea,lets NOT
    I feel UGLY when sick,sure don’t wanna go out in public w dark circles ratty hair,unclean
    ( not my normal ) uggghhhh.

    I say no,I’m too tired.
    I usually turn my phone off

    Unplug from society…
    Try & sleep…either a lot or not enough……depends…varies.
    As my body changes everyday that question changes as well everyday
    As you age you just gather bits of info,fr Drs,Internet,other Bipolars while in hospital stays,
    social workers,nurses….
    You learn what works ( all different each person) for you on a trigger.
    But,as an addict would say it’s almost like relapse..
    Doesn’t always succeed
    Then comes shitty part,disappointment frustration.
    One of the HARDEST THINGS I DID ( BUT PROUDEST) was shortly after my diagnosis
    By my OWN FREEWILL TO DESTROY MY 4 CREDIT CARDS.
    Sometimes,I miss my Visa,but it’s the disease I’ve no trust for.
    So,I pay cash only.
    Yes I got the fix me part too.
    My sister is still fruitlessly attempting to!!
    Controlling…..
    You are right.
    We aren’t like glass ornaments,broken!
    Interesting articles on the fixer & someone with bipolar sorry lost link but good read…..
    Sandra getting sleepy

  12. heather baker says:

    Mental illness is like physical illness. As a nurse I can tell you, you will not recover from surgery if you don’t get off your butt and move. You will not recover from infection if you don’t take your prescribed medications and do the therapy prescribed. A diabetic must eat differently or they will remain ill. You will not recover from pneumonia if you don’t deep breathe and cough. You will not get over virtually any illness without working at it. Mental illness is the same. Sit and think negative thoughts and don’t do anything and you will remain ill. It is a choice to get better or not whether your illness is physical or mental.

  13. “You put yourself through this muck”
    “Have you taken your meds?”
    “You act like you’re special”

    I’ve had people say things so wrong, I can’t even post them here. I’ve had mental illness since 1986 and I just turned 32 back in June 2015. It’s really upsetting when people treat me like I don’t matter, call me a “B” for being blunt and assume I’m “violent and dangerous” because I have schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorder (a landlord refused to rent to me because of this). I’ve never been violent or dangerous, in fact my mother is both because she has mental illness and was never officially diagnosed. I got tired of being mistreated by her so I cut her off. If I told all of you my story I may trigger someone’s symptoms and I cannot allow that to happen. So visit my blog and I will explain things in more detail. Some of those hurtful comments came from people who were also mentally ill :-(

  14. Crystal says:

    I agree with all of this. And while I get what others are saying about giving people around us a break, the point of this list was to show what can be harmful to say to someone with depression. It’s almost like walking up to a person with an invisible illness and saying “but you don’t look sick”, when inside they are dealing with Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Cancer and even depression or anxiety.
    Right now, my biggest issue I am dealing with is trying to explain to family that I can hear and see what I am saying and doing, but it feels almost like someone has taken over my body at certain times. I can’t control it. I hear how stupid I sound or how much I have lost myself, but I can’t control it. And what happens when I lose it? I have my whole family ganging up on me. I am 30 years old and I feel like I live at a high school and not at home with my parents. The moment anything happens with me, my mom has to call my grandma and gossip and tell her what happened. So if I call my grandma, just to have someone to talk to… She wont pick up. She will completely ignore me.
    One thing that really pisses me off is that my grandparents tell me all the time I need to change my diet . They don’t see that I eat pretty healthy for the most part. Then they will ask me if my daughter and I want to go with them to McDonalds. It makes me mad that they can sit there and criticize my eating habits and then turn around and take me to McDonalds. It also makes me upset that everyone else gets to go to a nice sit down restaurant when my grandparents take them out, but because I have a child, my choice is McDonalds.
    Another thing that is really hurting me right now is that not only does my mom call my grandma to talk about me, but my mom , dad and brother all sit around and talk about me in front of my daughter.
    And as someone else said , it hurts when people will tell you that if you were really suicidal, you would have already killed yourself and that you are just looking for attention. The reason I say that, is because although it might be true, at the same time, when I tell someone that I am suicidal, I am not looking for the kind of attention they think I am looking for. I am looking for help. Someone to understand how bad things are.

  15. ED says:

    The worst one:
    “You’re seeking attention” (And they ignore you for the rest of your disease until you suicide)

    The worst ones:
    “The real suicidal never say anything, he does it”
    “Why don’t you try psychotherapy”?
    “It’s all in your mind”
    “You’re lazy”

  16. ED says:

    Oh, and by the way, the user “Renita” didn’t get a word written in the article. There is always someone worse than us but that doesn’t mean our disease is not devastating! No schizophrenia suddenly remits, and it certainly is not useful to focus at our problems 24/7… when you are completely free from a disease!!!! When you have a mental disease you spend every second feeling bad someway, maybe from it or maybe from the adverse effects from the medicine, so stop saying that kind of things because that is the same attitude a lot of parents take which leads the ill to suicide!

  17. Renita says:

    Ed

    I have bipolar 1 so I do “get it”. I just try not to focus on it and hold other people’s feet to the fire because they don’t understand it like I do… We are all different is one way or another…

    Renita

  18. Renita says:

    I’ve also known people who are dying of cancer that’ve gone through some really awful treatments but they still try their best to think positive and not lose hope. Those people had little kids who depended on them and they wanted to set an example for their kids. All the while suffering from depression like us!

    Focusing on the bad stuff only intensifies the depression is all I’m trying to say

    And as for the hurtful things that people sometimes say, well they are simply ignorant of what we actually go through, PERIOD! I try my best to brush it off and not let it sink in. But yes it hurts especially from loved ones and even the medical profession who I expect better of…

    People can only get to you if you let them. Stop giving your power away.

  19. Renita says:

    Education is key…

  20. Hannah says:

    want to respond to one comment about how we should be easy on those who say these things as they are not intended that way. I absolutely disagree. Bad things said with good intention is ok for children who do not know any better but not for adults and I am sorry, once you have been told its the worse thing you can say, then do not say it. Mental health is a relatively new topic being discussed and a new area in terms of what we know about it. Why allow for such mistakes and why not correct these things now and immediately. To let these statements and questions to be excused due to their good intent seems ridiculous and would mean a bigger battle later on trying to get rid of them. Why should someone who is sick have to then put in the work to deal with these comments when they have a big enough battle on their hands. The one thing people seem to not be able to get their heads around is the very definition of depression and common in a lot of MH disorders. The constantly feeling of guilt and shame for feeling the way they do when indeed others are worse off. Guilt/ shame for not being able to control it or get rid of it, It’s the biggest fight of all Plus, if you are so mentally sound then surely you can process the fact that these comments do not help (either party) and think of something else to say or maybe even read a little and learn a bit about the latest research on mental health and either come up with something else to say or use one of the things ” Good to say to ..” suggested. These comments do not start conversations they stop them. They do not ask for information or make a person want to give up any information. These comments single-handedly halt any further understanding of what is happening to the person in question and prevent the person who wants to help from learning anything about how they can actually help. The first thing anyone needs to do in order to help, is to ask questions. Questions Questions Questions. Find out about someones particular case. Mental health is the mind, and brain. How different are we all in the world? Why is there or would there be just the one solution? cure? or fix? Plus we are not broken and if we have sought help and have a diagnosis then we are very aware of ourselves and have made a huge effort already to get better. Plus how is it that it is that everyone is a doctor and medical professional when it comes to MH? Seriously everyone is a MH pro. Now thats mental! I personally hate comments about treatment or pills. and have experienced people telling me my doctors are wrong and I am in the worst place and have repeatedly demanded I go seeI Dr. P, , Dr P being the very doctor I keep trying to tell them about! My point is Ask questions, like anything else if you get a rough response, do not take it personally, it might have been a shock, bad timing, or they are not ready just yet. Plus ask questions with the intent and purpose of listening to the answer and be willing to hear an answer different to the one you expect and even a different story and plan of action to that of your friend of a friend who had this and that sorted them out and therefore the cure. We learn in general and instinctively not to repeat things that create negative reactions. However sadly due to the past and present shame associated with MH, reactions have been muted out of fear. That fear as allowed for these comments to be OKed, as meant with good intention. No, rubbish, your good intention becomes null and void if you use any of these, so stop saying these things and manually set yourself a personal reminder not to if needs be!

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