What to Say (and what NOT to Say) to a Person with a Mental Illness

Mental Health / Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

To be honest, I don’t even like the term mental “illness.” Sure, that’s what it is, I suppose. But still. It implies a disability, something wrong. Condition? Issue? Let’s try…

a glitter rainbow imagination.

Things we want to hear.

I’m here for you These words alone, at least for me, make me feel a lot better. I feel alone a lot of the time because I feel that no one truly understands what’s going on with me. Which is partially true because no one is a mind reader. Yet, these words help.

What can I do to help? I think it’s safe to say significant others, friends, and family members of a person with a GRI feel kind of helpless when trying to make them feel better. Asking this question will help the GRI-er as well as the other person. Both parties can work together and figure out ways to cope.

You are important to me.

You are not crazy. A person with a GRI may be terrified of their own mental condition going on. It’s a terrifying experience! Even our own minds are no longer a safe haven.

You are not a burden. All too often I have fallen into a whirlpool of guilt because I’ve felt that I was hurting my loved ones by burdening them. Affirming that you love that person through thick and thin really helps.
You will survive this, and I’ll help you through it all.

I don’t completely understand what you are going through, but I will learn as much as I can- and then actually do some research for further knowledge. I cannot stress this enough. Frustration mostly stems from not understanding something. Therefore, watching the person you love struggle with an unknown condition is frustrating as hell- for both of you! If you can find tools to educate yourself, everybody benefits.

I won’t abandon you.

I am going to take care of myself so that you don’t have to worry that what you’re going through will hurt me, too. And then find help for yourself. I think that some people don’t realize that while mental health professional are there to help those with GRIs, they are also there to help the loved ones of those people. Take care of your own mind by seeking help. It’s challenging. I’ve been on the other side of helping a person with a GRI, and it’s very challenging. Seek help so that you yourself are apt to caring for another.

I love you (only if you truly mean this)

what to say to a person with a mental illness

Things we never want to hear:

There are people out there with worse conditions. Yes, we realize this.This doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, this makes us feel even guiltier for having these feelings in the first place.

Take some vitamins and take care of your body, you’ll feel better. Yes, I’m sure taking care of your body will help, but that’s not going to cure a GRI.

You are too much to handle.

Why can’t you just be normal?

Stop self-pitying and buck up.

I’ve been depressed before, too. Thank you for trying to empathize, but unless you’ve been so depressed that your bones hurt, you can’t get out of bed, and you fall asleep at 3 PM with your eyes wide open, please don’t say that.

You have the power to just stop.

Why can’t you just be a little bit stronger. It’s hard for GRI-less people to understand that we are actually being strong. They may not see it, but I promise you, we are. It is an internal battle and if we are still alive and breathing, we’re strong.

Stop faking it.

Living with a GRI, for me, is a just as much a blessing as it is a curse. It’s a blessing because I feel that without my experiences,  I wouldn’t be here trying to help others and living my life. It’s a curse because…well, it’s painful.

For those of you with no personal experience of having a GRI, you are very fortunate. I guess all I can tell you is, it’s not an act. It’s not something we can flick on and off (unless yes, the person is malingering, then shame on them). It’s tough and we need some kind of compassion.

Note, that’s very different from sympathy. It irks me when people play the “poor baby” card with me. I am not a victim. We are not victims. We just had a different deck of cards dealt to us. We are strong, resilient people with huge hearts. Sometimes, we just need a little extra TLC.

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