5 Things to Never Say to Someone with a Mental Illness

With Mental Health Awareness Week having just passed, the subject has very much returned to the forefront of my mind. I don’t speak about mental health as often now, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something I’m still very passionate about.

After all, my mental health and recovery was what led me to start my blogging and writing journey in the first place, so it will always be something that’s really close to my heart.

If you’ve ever dealt with a mental illness, I’m sure you will have had to deal with a fair few ignorant comments. Although these are often well-meaning, they can actually be really hurtful at times, which is why I think it’s important to educate people on the right and wrong things to say.

So without further ado, let’s address some of the worst things you can say to someone dealing with a mental illness:

“It’s all in your head.”

This one is talked about a hell of a lot, but for some reason people STILL say it. Of course it’s in our head – it’s a mental illness. But why does this mean it’s invalid or ‘not real’. Our brain is an organ, and depression is an illness of that organ. Just the same as diabetes, or heart disease. Just because the symptoms aren’t as obviously physical as other illnesses, doesn’t mean they aren’t real.

“What have you got to be depressed about?”

Come on people, it’s 2019. Surely we all know by now that mental illness is not circumstance dependant. Of course, for some people this is the cause, but going through something ‘worth’ being depressed about isn’t the only reason people get depression. It can be caused by circumstances, chemical imbalances in the brain or a combination of the two. Just because somebody might appear to have the ‘perfect life’, doesn’t mean they’re immune to mental illness and it certainly doesn’t make their mental illness less valid.

“I wouldn’t take pills, I’d want to recover by myself.”

This one is frustrating because of what it implies. The statement itself isn’t an issue – some people do choose to not take medication and they are absolutely entitled to do that. The problem lies when people who have never actually had a mental illness say this as a way of undermining your efforts in recovery. When someone says they ‘could never’ take antidepressants, for example, because they would want to ‘work hard’ and do it ‘themselves’, it heavily suggests that taking medication is a cheat and that if you do so, you don’t have to actually work on getting better. This is so not the case. Antidepressants are not ‘happy pills’ – all they do is try and get you to a baseline level on which you are able to take care of yourself in other ways that will hopefully lead to recovering or managing your illness. I have taken antidepressants for five years now, and there have still been a lot of testing times and instances where I have fallen back into a really negative place. Despite the fact that I take medication, my mental health is something I have to actively consider and work on every single day in order to remain in a positive place.

“You should be grateful you don’t have it as bad as X”

OBVIOUSLY. Obviously there are a lot of people in the world who “have it worse”. This applies to absolutely everybody everywhere. That doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to struggle and it doesn’t make us immune to a literal illness. You don’t choose to be depressed because you’re ungrateful. You wouldn’t say the same to someone with a physical illness, so what’s the difference?

“I think we all get depressed at times” (*Victoria Justice voice*).

There’s a stark difference between showing someone they’re not alone and this statement. Again, it’s all about the connotations – it suggests that everybody deals with the same thing but that we’re not strong enough to ‘get on with it’. Just to be clear, having the odd time when you feel really upset or unhappy is not the same as having depression. It’s much more comforting to simply tell someone you’re there for them than to try and relate when you actually can’t.

Of course, many of these are based on my experience of dealing with depression and anxiety. I’m sure there are so many different things others have had to deal with that I have never had to – especially people who suffer from more highly stigmatised mental illnesses.

Please let me know anything anyone has said to you which has affected you negatively or you feel came from a place of misunderstanding or judgement – I’m really interested to hear some different angles on this issue.

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