What Not to Say to Someone Experiencing a Mental Health Problem
Depression. Anxiety. Dealing with any mental health problem can be really tough. Not just for the one suffering through it but also for loved ones trying to offer support.
To the sufferer, depression can feel like you are carrying a thousand bricks on your shoulders. Everything is difficult. Getting out of bed and going through your daily routine feels impossible. It can be debilitating. Anxiety can feel like your mind is racing and things could fall apart at any moment. You might find it hard to breathe, struggle with headaches or stomach issues, and desperately seek out a feeling of calm.
For the support system, it is difficult to know what to say and what to do. You probably feel lost and stuck. You want to help. You want to make it all go away. But how? If you have a loved one struggling with depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue, it can feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells.
At CW Psychological Services in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, we work with those struggling with mental health and their friends and families to navigate these uncertain moments. With World Mental Health Day just around the corner (Oct.10) and the month of October being Depression Awareness and Mental Health Screening Month, it’s the perfect time to talk about supporting loved ones’ mental health.
We frequently talk about what you can do or say to help show your support but rarely do we focus on what not to say. This post is different. Our counselors and therapists have put together this list of what not to say (and what you can do instead) to offer some awareness and help end the stigma around mental health.
What Not to Say to Someone Struggling
1.) Just snap out of it and get over yourself. Someone with depression or anxiety can’t just snap out of it. They can’t control these feelings. They need time and support, not hurtful comments. Let them know that things are going to be ok and that you are there for them.
2.) You need to get out more. Getting out of the house isn’t easy for someone struggling with their mental health. Getting out of bed, eating a meal, and taking a shower can feel impossibly difficult. Instead, offer to open a window in their home.
3.) It’s all in your mind. Comments like these are unhelpful and just make a person feel worse.
4.) But, you have nothing to even worry about. Who are you to say what a person can or cannot worry about? Offer a positive story/example instead.
5.) Stop complaining all the time. When people are unhappy they often complain. It is just the way the mind works. Pointing it out is not going to achieve anything except make the person feel worse and distance themselves from you and others. Give them grace.
6.) I always knew you had a problem. Ever heard the phrase, if you have nothing nice to say then don’t say anything at all? Keep this one to yourself.
7.) There is nothing even wrong with you. Maybe you think you are being helpful by letting a person know that you think they are fine, but the reality is how do you know what a person is feeling inside? You don’t.
8.) Stop looking for attention. It can seem like someone who is going through a rough time with their mental health is deliberately looking for attention, but it is important to recognize that it is nothing that they can control. A person needs help. Instead of unhelpful comments, help guide them to a counselor or therapist who can help facilitate healing.
9.) You don’t look depressed or anxious. How does a depressed or anxious person look? There is no mold for someone who has a mental health problem. Depression and anxiety impact everyone, every race, gender, and nationality.
10.) You aren’t pushing yourself enough. Adding pressure to a person who is already struggling with everyday life is only going to make things worse. Encourage and praise small steps, like walking to the mailbox or taking a shower. Offer a hug or a hand and let them know you are here for them.
11.) It sounds like you are going crazy. A person who is already struggling with their mental health is likely already saying things like this to themselves. Saying this is only cementing those unhealthy and unhelpful thoughts. Try saying “it’s going to be ok,” or “I am here for you” instead.
12.) You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. Part of depression is feeling like everything is awful. The person can’t help it and pointing it out will only make them feel worse and fold further inside. Instead, suggest you go for a walk outside and shift the conversation to positive things in their lives and the world.
13.) No one ever said life was fair. We all know this. No need to point it out.
14.) You are always so negative. A person with depression or anxiety isn’t feeling very positive. They are constantly beating themselves up or are worried about what is going to go wrong next. Instead of adding to the negativity, offer support through actions. For example, offer to take something off their to-do list or make them a hot meal.
15.) It’s your own fault. This is just not true. Depression and anxiety are classified as disorders and illnesses, they are no one’s fault. Blaming a person for the way they feel will only compound their already negative feelings.
16.) Things aren’t that bad. How are you to know how bad things are? How things are going in a person’s life has a lot to do with their perception. If they are feeling depressed and struggling with basic life tasks, they might feel pretty bad. Instead, offer to drive them to an appointment with a mental health professional.
17.) Things could be so much worse. Anxious people know that things could be much worse because they are constantly fearing the worst. Hearing this will only add to their anxious feelings.
Self-Care for You and Them
It is challenging to support someone who is frequently down, fearful, or worried. It is ok to be frustrated. Sometimes we say and do things we regret out of frustration, causing more harm. That is why it is so important that both you and a person struggling with mental health practice self-care. Take time for yourself. Give yourself space to breathe and interact in positive environments. Eat healthy, get adequate sleep, and talk to a mental health professional.
Counselors and therapists can help to guide you and those struggling with mental health towards healing. They offer tips and tools and can design a plan that fits your life.
If you are unsure if you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health condition, Mental Health America offers this helpful screening tool: https://screening.mhanational.org/screening-tools/
Ready to begin counseling in Pennsylvania?
Counselors and associate-level clinicians at CW Psychological Services are professionally trained. We have openings for online or telehealth therapy appointments. Email us at [email protected] or call (610) 308-7575. We want to help.