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Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say

A few weeks ago I wrote an article on the worst things to say to a person with a mental illness. This ended up becoming a very popular article. I think that’s because most of us have heard some or all of these dismissive things from people in our lives.

But a commenter posed an excellent question: What are the best things to say to someone with a mental illness?

Best Things to Say to a Person with a Mental Illness

  1. I love you
  2. What can I do to help?
  3. This must be very hard for you
  4. I am there for you, I will always be there for you
  5. You are amazing, beautiful and strong and you can get through this
  6. Have you seen your doctor/therapist?
  7. You never have to apologize for your illness or for feeling this way
  8. I’m not scared of you

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Why These Are Great Things to Say

These statements show that you recognize that the person is sick; you recognize that they’re in pain you don’t understand, and that you will be there for them. These are great things no matter what the illness is and really, no matter whom the person is.

These Are Supportive Things to Say

What you are really saying, or implying:

  1. The three best words in the English language. It shows that you care about the person in spite of their illness. We need reminding.
  2. This shows that you really want to help in a way that works for the person.
  3. You’re validating their feelings and illness. As we often get the opposite, this is a gift.
  4. You’re showing the person that you really are there for them and that you’re not going anywhere. Every human has a fear of abandonment and we perhaps more than most as we often see people leave us due to our mental illness.
  5. These compliments very person-to-person but basically our brain is attacking who we are and skewing our self-perception. If you can bring some reality to the table it’s appreciated. And honestly, we might not seem to believe you, but it helps to hear it anyway.
  6. This is a tricky one but I do think it’s important to encourage professional help in whatever form that takes. We get so sick we don’t do this and by saying this to us you’re reinforcing that we need to do it and you’re saying it in a loving way. You could offer to make, drive to or come to an appointment.
  7. We feel bad about being sick. Really. Guilty. And guilty and scared about being sick around you. By saying that we don’t have to apologize, you’re telling us that you accept us and our illness and we don’t have to apologize for something outside of our control. (This isn’t to suggest that we shouldn’t apologize for behaving badly, that everyone should do.)
  8. You’re reinforcing that you love us and we’re not driving you away. Everyone’s scared of our illness, including us. We need to know that you’re not terrified that we’ll suddenly explode like TNT lit by Wile E. Coyote.

loveIt’s Hard to Say the Right Thing

I admit, these are hard things to say. They’re hard things to say to anyone and they’re certainly hard things to say to someone suicidal. I recognize that. Everyone’s human. We don’t always pick the right box.

So every conversation doesn’t contain all eight items. No one could expect it would. If you just feel comfortable saying one, that’s perfectly OK. But if the basic ideas of love, acceptance, support, acknowledgment and help can be remembered, the conversations can go better whatever their flow.

And hey, if you’ve had these things said to you, say thanks. We should all appreciate such kindness.

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

Author: Natasha Tracy

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36 thoughts on “Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say”

  1. This is a wonderful article ! Its perfect. My long story short is that I never knew my father growing up, and I am 34 now, and I decided this year that I wanted to try to find him. I had alot of help through a man that has known him almost all of his life. I found him, he is living in a home for people with mental and/or physical disabilities, because he has paranoid schizophrenia. it kind of shocked me at first a little ( although I had a little indication from the person who helped me that he might have had some sort of mental illness ). But, I am not the kind of person to run away because of that. I still wanted to have contact with him and the nurses have been very helpful, and we have now spoken twice on the phone and I cannot put into words what it feels like to have this contact with him, and he is VERY happy too. I think this will be good for him and me.

    Thank you,

  2. Hi Jasmin,

    Thanks.

    It’s great to hear your father’s illness isn’t scaring you off. That speaks very highly of you.

    Thanks for your comment.

    – Natasha

  3. Thanks for your great insights, I really enjoy your blog. Another thing my best friend used to say which was great is ‘ I love your crazyness’. This is especially good since it does not imply that you are loved in spite of your crazy. Of course, this (and surely all of the above statements) really should only be used when they are entirely true.

  4. Hi Meriel,

    Thanks. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

    I agree, that’s a great thing to say. And yes, ideally when you say something, it should be true 🙂

    – Natasha

  5. I loved this article. I’m sending it to my family. Some have tried to understand and some don’t seem to want to. Maybe this will open their eyes, not mainly with me, but as they go through life and come accross people who are struggling. I lost a bi-polar friend about 3 years ago and it still really makes me sad. I have to think what we might have all done differently to help him get to a better place, and he could have. I wish I had had a change to talk to him and wish many of us had told him all of these things.
    gail

  6. Hi Bill,

    thanks for the comment. Actually, I think we can help others see things this way. Hopefully each of us, in some small way can affect others to understand a little more.

    Gail,

    I’m sorry to hear about your friend. That’s really tough. Now you have the opportunity to show people a better way. Of course, it doesn’t bring anyone back, but I like to think I might be able to help someone else that might be on the edge.

    – Natasha

  7. In spite of that, the profession of psychiatrist is very intriguing matter; I remember a Muslem pilgrin with depressive disorder and suicidal behavior, whom one quotation of Koran dramatically changed his siucidal temptation. The same person after hearing this prayer began to smile and request to treat us with refreshing drink. I think that the real recognition of world-outlook of patient is important cue in helping the desperate person. This don’t deny the role of supporting the mentally ill person with compassion.

  8. When things are really really bad, my husband always says: “I’m not going anywhere.” And yes, for as much as I truly desperately hold on to that promise, said over and over and over, there are times I just want to smack him. Boy, do I make sense or what?

  9. Hi Anniem,

    Well, you make as much sense as anyone else. Psychology is a funny beastie that way.

    It’s wonderful to have someone in your life say such a thing. You’re lucky. Which I’m sure you know. Contradictory feelings are still normal. (And probably a sign of passion.)

    But maybe next time you think smack, you can also think wonderful. You know, just to temper things a bit.

    – Natasha

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