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
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.
Tracy, N. (2010, September 7). Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 15 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2010/09/stop-minimizing-mental-illness-worst-things-to-say
Author: Natasha Tracy
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...
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
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.
A good way to put this is "you will never find it if you are looking for it."
He wants to know "why" I did not tell him about the homeless "man". It's been 3 days, much heartache and I still cannot tell him why. He got very angry with me. It's a total change from the man I have known for six months. Can any of you give me insight, suggestions or even questions? I love him...
I've been dating a wonderful man for six months. First, I should tell you that we are 59+ years old. He has BP1, and has had a good hold on his meds, and has diligently worked a functioning program. He was honest with me, straight up telling me he is BP.
I had zero complaints... And we got along like peas and carrots. Then two nights ago something happened. I live in an area where homeless people are always walking behind my apartment. 99.9 of them I keep a safe distance, but this one very young man (kid really) said hi and respectfully approached me. He needed help. I talked to him for a little, telling him that my apartment complex has strict no trespassing rules. He left, all was good.
Later that night I'd been talking to my boyfriend on the phone for about 2 hours, and that kid knocked on my back patio door. I told my boyfriend I'd call him right back, he asked what I was going to do, I said take care of something. I did not tell him about the homeless kid.
At 58 years, I am tapped out. The children have grown and are finding their way. So much of my life was spent protecting them from my husband's mood swings and explaining away Dad's sudden outbursts of anger mostly directed at me. The thing is that I tried not to take things personally especially since he never remembered saying cruel things (why haven't you lost your baby weight yet?) or (you lost your looks when I married you). Yet he was funny and interesting and made a good living in sales and it was more often fun than futile.
I won't abandon him. I can't. He recently spent every dime we had in a poorly structured "retirement deal" and lost it all. I wasn't paying attention because I thought he had somehow gotten "less ill" with age. Now I see it was simply that our youngest child had moved out and he felt less stress. I did not know we were penniless...my fault. Now he has no income, no retirement, never put into Soc. Sec. and I am scrambling to work part-time jobs to support us. This is part of the for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health vow I took.
Why would anyone think that I need to prove anything to them? I am working with my doctors, taking the meds, and trying - oh, that is another good one "if you're trying, you are lying." I can't stand it.
Usually in relation to me saying I just want to punch someone in the face.
What this person doesn't realise is that they may want to punch someone in the face whereas I have not only wanted to, have planned the attack in my head and have to fight the overwhelming urge to make the person who upset me pay for what they have done. Then I have to find some other way to calm down as the anger is still boiling away inside.
So I guess it's people minimising the illness to make it sound like you haven't got a problem because everyone else feels the same way.
You really don't know these people what they've really gone through. You certainly can't know completely from a few lines in a comments section.
I'm sorry, but you're out of line.
Thanks for sharing all of that.
It's hard for the puny human brain to tolerate distress in others. Some people respond to this positively by trying to help others in need. Others go into a denial that the other person is distressed. It is this denial that leads to the kinds of comments mentioned above.
It is not so much that they can't stand your suffering. It's just that they don't want to admit you are fully human, like them, because then they would have to admit that they are vulnerable to the same distress.
Most of these things have been said to me, and I've witnessed it being said to others many, many times before. Sometimes it's with good intention (trying to help) and sometimes with a negative view towards mental illness. The ignorance about mental health is concerning to me.
I would like to see this list of points circulated more widely - I think it could help a lot of people.
"But it doesn’t give me the right to minimize other people’s pain and problems either. Everyone has problems and pain to endure. It’s not that theirs don’t matter because they don’t happen to have a mental illness. So yes, we do all have our own crosses to bear. And I’m not the one to judge just how heavy theirs is."
You should try acupuncture.
You should try meditation.
You should try yoga.
You should try running.
You should give up dairy.
You should take this natural supplement.
You should read this book by so and so or attend this workshop on this topic.
You should try reiki.
If I do not ask for your advice, then these statements are hurtful because they do not take into consideration what I need or do not need from you. You should keep your advice to yourself unless I ask for it.
He never apologized. It's been years since I've seen him.
Sure, life is difficult with mental illnesses. It's difficult when you're depressed all the freaking time. I don't even know what happiness is. I'm missing half my emotions. I'm often depressed, and when I'm not I'm void of feeling. Anhedonia kicking in, feeling like a ghost, hollow inside. At those times I'll desperately attempt to feel something. Since there is no happiness, joy or other nice feeling in my emotional range, that means I'm trying to feel sad again. Just to feel something. Pathetic? Perhaps, but it's the only way to keep me connected to myself.
But it doesn't give me the right to minimize other people's pain and problems either. Everyone has problems and pain to endure. It's not that theirs don't matter because they don't happen to have a mental illness. So yes, we do all have our own crosses to bear. And I'm not the one to judge just how heavy theirs is.
On this occasion the very man who had been in A&E with me for various health problems both physical and mental,took a recollection I had told to him of my past. I would argue the physician who delt with me in A&E, the psychiatrist and the crisis team (who failed me- but that is a different topic) only knew barr me ofcourse.For clarity- it was of a failed suicide (thank god it failed.
However he took something so personal and sacred and blamed the widely known and proven fact of the many failures of the NHS in dealing with mental illness ...which i had to face in my caseand said:
"Thinking about the time you were begging people to help you and being turned away time and time again, it suddenly clicked to me- the problem isn't an illness or a failure in the system- the problems you."
Suffice to say I left winded, shocked and in floods of tears. How could he?! How could he say that? After the many times i repeat over and over, 'I would never wish depression or the darkness that I have endured on my worst enemy'. After hearing such things and knowing how bad i suffered and still suffer as I feel so much of me was lost and taken away; to still say such- well it sickens me.
Alas, ignorance, ill information and a will to ignore and not compassionately understand. What can we do? When sharing, speaking up and communicating our experiences can be used against us. How can we constantly be brave and fly the flag for awareness and compassion if people will throw our experiences of suffering back in our face?
It won't stop me, but i can safely say the struggle is hard and we are no where near bringing others to understand .
But i will add one more thing, I still don't wish, or ever will wish such darkness and suffering on him or anyone else..enemy or friend.
So thank you for writing. Thank you for sharing.
I searched 'making fun of mental illnes' on google an thak god this blog came up.
If I could just rewined 4hours prior where my once supportive partner of 2 years commited the ultimate betrayal and used my mental health illness in the past against me.
It had been the final straw and after months of put down comments such as "Your a drama queen" "You crave the drama and feed off it" "You brong things on for yourself" "Things would be better for youbif you just listened" *sarcasticslly* "You're never in the wrong are you"
to what was said tonight. I dont care how heated things get, on an argument or not, I urge people not to use someones mental illness against them.
Especially when its in their past as such, and they are stable and recieving on going treatmemt for it.
I would argue it is the same as someone retaliating by defaming the name of a dead relative, openly harassing someones tradegy be it rape or abuse and stating they were to blame for what happened to them and how others treated them
While I agree with your main point, I am confused by your overall post. "...wouldn't compare heart disease to diabetes"--why not? It would probably be best if we didn't compare any illness; but we're human and we're constantly comparing, evaluating, and drawing conclusions. (and judging)
I loved what you said about "how you may not choose to have your symptoms, but you can choose how to manage those symptoms" I'd argue this is true for EVERYONE with ANY illness, though. (to different degrees of course) Managing symptoms doesn't necessarily mean making them become less intense or frequent. It can also refer to how one responds to the fact that these symptoms exist at whatever level they do.
I find your comment of a "real" illness interesting. What exactly does that mean to you? Are there "fake" illnesses that people have? I don't think I've ever heard of a "fake" illness.
As for your other contribution, neurologists do actually often diagnose and treat "mental illnesses" too. Also, I was curious as to what the difference is between "brain disorder" and "brain disease." I've not known of such a distinction, and I would tend to think that the two terms are somewhat interchangeable.
Lastly, in an ideal situation you have both psychiatrists and neurologists working closely together for the benefit of the patient.