If someone confides in you regarding their mental health, you should know that this is very difficult for them. Whether this may be a family member, partner, friend, or someone who you’ve only just met – they trust you. And you should consider yourself lucky for that. Yet as this particular person lets down the wall that has been built to protect themselves, you find yourself at a loss for words. And that’s OK – it’s not always about knowing what to say, it’s about knowing what NOT to say.
First of all, don’t try too hard making yourself understand what this person is feeling. You’re not
supposed to understand, (unless you have been through it yourself) the key thing is wanting to help.
Here are 3 things to never say and 3 things you could say instead:
‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself.’
This is one of the most insensitive things you could say to someone who has a mental illness. No one wants to be ill. The fact that this person has reached out to you shows that they want to be helped, and they want to get better. Do you really believe that we want to feel like this? We don’t.
What to say instead: ‘I’m always here for you.’
This is exactly what we want to hear. We want someone to be always there for a chat, a rant, a hug. Someone who wouldn’t mind staying up into the early hours of the morning having deep conversations about life. Someone who wouldn’t judge or make negative assumptions. It’s just nice knowing that whatever and whenever, you have someone who cares. And even know you might not think it that can make all the difference.
‘Someone has it worse than you do.’
If you really look at in this way, then yes, there are people out there who are in less fortunate situations. But how does this change what that person is feeling right now? It’s exactly like saying that you can’t be happy as someone else has it better. It’s never okay to make someone feel guilty for the way they are feeling.
What to say instead: ‘I’ll help you get through this.’
We know that mental illnesses can’t be ‘cured’ overnight. But having someone supporting you each day can definitely help you get through it. You could also remind them how they will not feel the way forever – circumstances will change. And you’ll be there on the other side. Waiting.
By saying this you’re actually suggesting that how we are feeling is normal, and that it should be just kept contained. This will only make us regret opening up, and thus make us feel further trapped and isolated, as if there is no possible way out because ‘that’s life’ – we have to just get on with it. And that’s not right.
What to say instead: ‘Your mental illness doesn’t define you.’
We want to hear that there is more to life than we may think. We need a reason to keep going, to keep fighting and make the most out of our existence. Most importantly, we need to hear that our mental health isn’t a reason to hold back; it shouldn’t constrain us.
Hopefully, this bit of advice has benefited you in some way, or just made you think more carefully about what you do say next time. I’ll leave you with this memorable quote by Chuck T. Falcon – “Remember sadness is always temporary. This, too, shall pass.”
If you are concerned about the mental health of yourself or someone you know, talk to Mind on 0300 123 3393 or visit their website, here.