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Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say

Some people say the worst things to a person with mental illness. They're hurtful and minimize mental illness. Read and see what I mean.

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.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

252 thoughts on “Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say”

  1. I found out that I’m bipolar at the age of sixty, while researching how to best support my daughter when she was diagnosed as BP2. I’ve had doctors ask me if I thought that maybe I might be bipolar, over the years (I sometimes tend to come across as intimidating, and occasionally intimidate intimidators), but I would shrug it off with a wisecrack, while constantly wondering why I’m not like other people. Why have I lost so many friends over the years, why have I been divorced three times (I would’ve left me too, if I could have), why do I always feel like a hole that can’t be filled, why’d I get stuck with an addictive personality, how can I work on a project for three days without eating or sleeping, then, why do I wish that I could sleep forever? So, after my daughter’s diagnosis, I told my most recent doctor that she’s probably been right all these years. I’m bipolar.

    Now that the puzzle has finally been solved, do I get a Do over? Of course not! But I continue to research how to ‘control’ this 900 lb. gorilla, which brought me to your blog. I’m hooked. It’s a bipolar goldmine ( so to speak)! Thank you for what you do!

  2. This article is SPOT ON! Thank you! I have recently been having flashbacks of the multiple suicide attempts I made years ago. These memories had been buried in my subconscious, so it’s very scary to be “reliving” them for the first time. As I shared that this was happening to me with a family member I thought might be a good support, she replied, “Well, are you embellishing on those memories? Maybe you’re seeking attention.” I was stunned into silence. Those memories are horrible! Why would anyone ever wish to make them sound worse than they already are?!?! The guilt and shame I feel for what I put my family through is palpable. Why would I ever seek their attention?!?! I just withdrew further into myself, and now feel I have no support from my family. It’s a lonely place to be. Thankfully, I have a wonderful treatment team I can lean on, because they are the only ones I have left.

  3. Its frustrating when you feel unwell and are not up to working,ecercising anything really.people who dont have bipolar and have an off today must find it hard to understand having off days not just once or twice but consistently for weeks or at the moment months on end.its soul destroying.things will get better i hear people say including my psychiatrist.i hope so as i feel a terrible low self esteem from being unwell.shame,guilt,fear and wonder what the future will bring.im scared and am praying to the angels and god to give me some hope and peace.the biggest thing is to want to go on with life despite everything.

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