Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say
Tuesday, September 7 2010 Natasha Tracy
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
Here are some of my favorite worst things to say to a depressed person or really anyone with a mental illness.
- Snap out of it
- There are a lot of people worse off than you
- You have so many things to be thankful for, how can you be depressed?
- You’d feel better if you got off all those pills
- What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
- Go out and have some fun
- I know how you feel
- So you’re depressed, aren’t you always?
- This too shall pass
- 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:
- They could choose not to be sick if they really wanted
- Their illness is not serious
- They have no “reason” to be ill
- Their treatment is wrong
- They’ll be better off from it
- They would be fine if they would just “go out”
- Their illness is minimal
- Their pain doesn’t matter
- They should just wait for the pain to end
- Their illness is just like anyone else’s problem
- 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
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.