3 things to never tell someone with mental illness
Being mindful of what we say to those struggling with mental illness is important.
When one hasn't experienced mental illness themselves, it's going to be difficult to understand what it's like. Honestly, as a mental illness sufferer myself, I am grateful that there are people out there who don't understand it. Dealing with mental illness brings people in a dark place that nobody deserves to go through.
However, sometimes people's inability to fully understand mental illness gets translated wrong verbally as they don't understand it cognitively. In turn, individuals dealing with mental illness may take it to heart, and at times, the people who spoke are considered selfish people. But in reality, a simple misunderstanding often creates a barrier between people who deal with mental illness and those who don't.
With the goal to help others understand mental illness, or at least have better communication when speaking about such, here are three things to avoid telling someone who is suffering with a mental disorder:
1. "It's all in your head."
Technically, mental illness is in one's head in the sense that what they're dealing with is a malfunction with how they think, feel, and/or behave whether it be from a physical or psychological origin - or a combination of both.
But of course, when someone tells somebody else that their mental illness is "all in their head," their intention is to tell them that they're just imagining what they're going through and causing their own symptoms from the start. They may also tell the sufferer that if they just be happy and think positively, they will be better.
While having a positive perspective is important, a positive perspective alone won't cure one's mental illness. There are times that one will feel sad or anxious and not know why. There are also times where one may have the physical symptoms of their mental illness appear and know for a fact that they nor their environment is triggering the symptoms.
That said, mental illness is never just in one's head; it can affect or feel like it is affecting every system in the body for what seems like completely unknown reasons. Mental illness isn't as on-the-surface or as easy to overcome as some may believe. It's often deep-rooted and takes time for even the sufferer to fully understand it themselves.
2. "You just want attention."
Contrary to popular belief, a majority of individual struggling with mental illness don't want attention for the struggles they're facing. In fact, many try as best as they can to conceal it, particularly when the time is deemed inappropriate such as when they are in class, in the middle of a meeting, or at a party.
For some mental illness sufferers, they isolate themselves. They may refuse to leave the house or even their bed. They might cut off friendships and relationships and keep to themselves. Many of them may even refrain from getting professional help out of fear, lack of money, embarrassment, or even shame.
If everyone outwardly expressed their mental illness publicly, there wouldn't be a place you could go - a coffee shop, the grocery store, the bank - where someone wouldn't be acting outside of what we call the "norm." But because not every expresses everything going on in their head, you would never know how many suffer with mental illness around you.
There does, however, come a point where someone with mental illness needs to vent and reach out for help. There also comes a time where they want to speak out about mental health with the goal to get others to understand it more. Needing help or wanting to speak out are different from wanting attention. It's a tough topic to talk about.
3. "There's always someone who has it worse than you."
There is no way to compare two people's problems from a second or third person perspective. How "worse" someone is can be a matter of opinion. Quite frankly, judging how bad someone is without knowing exactly how they feel or the intensity of what they feel is sheer ignorance.
While there may be someone out there who is less fortunate than someone who happens to suffer with mental illness, what many don't get is that some people with mental illness would do anything just to feel "normal" on the inside, even if it meant giving up the luxuries in their life. Trust me when I say people with mental illness don't take things for granted. If anything, many of these individuals feel like they don't deserve what they have, not that they need more of it.
But in the end, everyone has their own battles. For one person, dealing with a tragic life event may empower them to be an advocate and help others in the same situation they've dealt with. For others, that same trauma may be a major process for them to adjust to. Everyone is different in how they cope with things and how quickly they are able to do so. Pain is not a competition and neither should be happiness.
If someone reaches out to you regarding their mental illness, try to keep an open mind as much as possible. It can be difficult to understand someone who has a different perspective, set of beliefs or values, and life story; however, we are all human. Part of being human is learning from others and empowering them on their own journeys.
It's okay to not fully comprehend mental illness and the struggles that come with it. Nonetheless, it's still important to listen and be careful with your choice of words when communicating about mental illness with someone who struggles with such.