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?
Here are some of the best things you can say to a person with mental illness:
- I love you
- What can I do to help?
- This must be very hard for you
- I am there for you, I will always be there for you
- You are amazing, beautiful and strong and you can get through this
- Have you seen your doctor/therapist?
- You never have to apologize for your illness or for feeling this way
- I’m not scared of you
Why These Are Great Things to Say to Support Someone With a Mental Illness
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.
What you are really saying, or implying:
- The three best words in the English language. It shows that you care about the person in spite of their illness. We need reminding.
- This shows that you really want to help in a way that works for the person.
- You’re validating their feelings and illness. As we often get the opposite, this is a gift.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
It'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.
Tracy, N. (2010, October 12). Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 21 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2010/10/supporting-the-mentally-ill-best-things-to-say
Author: Natasha Tracy
It can really hard to maintain boundaries in that situation but, ultimately, boundaries protect you and your brother. You can't help him at all if helping him wounds you. You know what they say, put your own oxygen mask first before you assist others because if you can't breathe, you're of no help to anyone.
You could try saying something like this: "I appreciate that you need help right now, but I need to take care of myself. I can't help you our with money, but I can ______"
Or: "I know that you need help right now, but because I have helped you so much already, I'm putting my own self in harm's way. Please understand that I will help you, but not with money."
The point being that you recognize his need, but you also recognize your own needs and boundaries and respect them. It's okay to do that. You may have to stand strong, but it's worth it.
- Natasha Tracy
My step mom should be the poster child for what and what not to say. She is such a blessing to me. She lost a really good friend to Bipolar. "Accidental" overdose..... But she has also been there for me more and more since then, with my struggle. 23 years. She says," I'd love to see you. I don't care if you don't have much to say. I have plenty to say. You can listen, or not, just smile and pretend occasionally. I love you and miss you." She also found a meme on FB that is great. It says, "When you heart is breaking for someone who is broken, but you're words can't reach them and your love can't save them, ask the angels to go where you cannot. To whisper into their heart what their ears can't hear: "We will not give up on you. Don't give up on yourself."- Sandra Kring
Also, I was fired from my job after 13 years there. I've been out of work for 2 years now and am contemplating finding another job, maybe part time. I'm not sure if I am able to work now. So I feel the struggle of the other commenter in that regard. (Sorry, I guess I have a computer virus and can't scroll back for fear of losing my post.) Anyway, I'm going to get my resume together and give it a shot.
Thanks again for the post Natasha and all the comments too. At least we can struggle together! Peace
Well I'm tired too. Sick and tired of having to be the one who does all the giving as well as the one who is expected to forgive and forget all the the horrible verbal abuse dished out by an ungrateful ill partner who threatens suicide every time I attempt to leave (which is emotional blackmail as far as I'm concerned)
I'm a "high functional" as it is referred to but there is only so much hiding you can do before the disease takes over. Uggghhh, cliché ahead..."The body always wins." Although a cliché it's true. This disease is truly insidious as we're attacked and most times subtly and suddenly. If your partner in life is tired, this can present a huge hopelessness issue.
I've accepted that I can no longer function in the capacity to re-enter the workforce and I'm headed for disability yet my partner sees this as my "throwing my hands up." Self harm has taken a huge toll on my body. After many years of treatment, I'm now termed as "clinically managed." After my third suicide attempt, my doctor was done as he felt he was failing me as a medical professional.
So in closing those close to me need to realize that: I'm am extremely ill, suicide is an everyday thought and this time a no failure option, when everyone drifts away it's pretty much over and last, that no failure option has not been carried out simply because it would derail my partner's new career which is his "dream job." I can't mess that up and so I exist while he grows increasing frustrated at my lack of motivation.
Wishing healing blessings to all who need it ..
Listening and affirming the person's experience is vital and this can sometimes give the person with the mental illness the strength to continue on and to keep striving to live as well as is possible.
Serious mental illness is disabling, and "invisible" to people who do not have it.
I also recommend educating oneself through internet articles, the NAMI website discussions for family and friends, and other sources of current informaiton on mental illness.
It is not easy to know what to say...it is vital to stand behind the person who is ill..not to abandon them, not to condemn or label them, not to take out your frustrations on them. If you are feeling like hurting the person who is ill, get help for yourself!
I'm not afraid of the illness but
My daughter is not doing what she needs
To manage her illness ,
And self medicates with narcodics
therefore she is unpredictable and possibly
She has been in and out of jail.
( a couple charges of assault among other things)
She has threatened to kill me
Several times and once stole and crashed my car.
I can not have her at my house
Or be alone with her.
Of course in her perspective I am unreasonable
And she doesn't belive me when I tell her
Mostly because I say all of those things to one person in particular and he doesn't understand why I'm not afraid or why I love him so much.
I have said all of those things and meant them, never being told that those are the things to say.
I think it's because those are all things I always wanted to hear from people when I was growing up. I'm bipolar 1 and I never got any nurturing or empathy from anyone. It was always isolation.
I've always known how to comfort people, but never how to let them comfort me.
It's really surreal for me.
My husband has recently been diagnosed with Bipolar 2 and is struggling with treatments. I never know what to do or say, and I wish I could help.
Yup. I think it's important to know both because many people do want to help but just don't know how.
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.
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.
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.
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 :)
It's great to hear your father's illness isn't scaring you off. That speaks very highly of you.
Thanks for your comment.