It can be hard to know how to help a friend who’s struggling with mental health problems – sometimes it can be even harder to know what to say to them. But some people (even our friends) can get it horribly wrong. I get it. It’s tricky. But we all watched Bambi: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.
“Just cheer up”
Gee thanks, I hadn’t thought of that, I’m all better now. I know you mean well, but this is seriously the worst advice ever. A – it’s useless (how exactly do you ‘just cheer up?) And B – it’s insulting. Not to sound like too much of a snowflake, but most mental health problems are a little more complex than just being in a bad mood. Trust us, if we could cheer up just like that, we would.
“You’re overreacting/ being dramatic”
First of all, yeah, I know. If you think its exhausting, why don’t you try being me. But really, for someone with anxiety this sort of comment just confirms their worst fears: that they’re in the way, annoying or over the top. I get it. Everyone has their own problems and its not always easy to stay patient with someone who you think is being irrational. But to them its real, and making someone with mental health problems feel like they’re annoying is a big no.
“You’re so skinny, I wish I looked like you”
This is almost worse than those ‘go eat a burger’ culprits. You just shouldn’t have an opinion on another person’s weight, full stop. And if you do, you should keep it to yourself – even if it feels like a compliment. There’s nothing wrong with being skinny, but for people struggling with or recovering from eating disorders, it definitely doesn’t make them feel lucky. It’s a monkey on their backs they fight every day and they’d get rid of it in a heartbeat if they could. Again, you probably mean well but (as with any mental health problems) you definitely don’t know the whole story, so try not to comment on it.
“I didn’t finish that coursework on time, I’m gonna kill myself”
There’s really no excuses for this one. Like, seriously? Are you stupid? Joking about mental health isn’t funny or clever – it’s belittling, and its dangerous. The butt of your joke is the worry that keeps someone awake at night, and making fun of mental health problems is probably the cruelest thing you could ever do. Just don’t.
“There’s lots of people who have it worse”
I’m sure they’ve thought of that, in fact, I’m willing to bet they feel uncontrollably guilty about it – but maybe don’t point it out? The thing is, mental health problems aren’t directly correlated to whether you’re ‘attractive’ or ‘smart’ or ‘rich’ – whatever those things mean anyway. If that was the case, people in successful careers with picture perfect families wouldn’t have depression. But they do. But when people with mental health problems are made to feel like they’re ‘not unwell enough’ or that they ‘have no right’ to feel down, they stop telling people when they need help.
The bottom line is that most people mean well – but that doesn’t stop them saying something accidentally hurtful or patronising. And some people are just plain careless. Especially if they haven’t experienced similar mental health problems. Basically, just be kind.
Come back next week for 5 things you can say to people with mental health problems that are actually helpful, and in the mean time you can check out some more of my rants below:
- Why you need to stop joking about mental health
- A student’s guide to understanding anxiety
- Lies your depression tells you
- Everything tastes better than skinny feels
- 5 reasons why you should stop saying ‘I’m fine’