Why You Shouldn't Tell Someone With a Mental Illness to 'Choose Happiness'


Unless you live under a rock, you have probably heard the phrase “choose happiness.”

I know that people mean well when they say it, but it can be really damaging to those who struggle with mental illness. I’m writing about it because I see this phrase almost everywhere I go, and it makes me squirm every time. I see it when I get on Pinterest, painted beautifully on a slab of rustic wood at Hobby Lobby or on the back of someone’s phone case. If this phrase helps your life and magically changes your mindset, then great!

What many don’t realize is this saying really shames those who are struggling with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), etc. To say to someone dealing with these issues  “Just make the decision to be happy today!”or “Why can’t you just stop being miserable and just choose to be happy?” is extremely hurtful. You are basically telling the person you care about they are responsible for their illness – that they chose to have it. You are telling them they should have more control over something they have almost no control over. You are telling them they aren’t trying hard enough to get better. You are telling them they are not capable.

Please do not think for one second that someone with mental illness chose that life.If I could choose to wake up every morning and say “Hmm, I think I’ll be happy today!” I would.

Please do your loved one a favor and learn as much as you can about what they are going through, this way you can avoid saying things that will make them feel worse than they already do.

For those who are dealing with mental health issues, here is my advice for coping when someone tells you to “choose happiness:”

  • Instead of getting angry, take a moment to explain how you feel and why their words are not helpful.
  • Let them know what is helpful. If this person is not receptive, do not blame yourself. My counselor taught me that the things that people say or do tells you more about them, then it does you. Just move on and find people who will be helpful and encouraging.
  • The mental illness you are facing is not your fault.
  • You can’t choose happiness, but you can choose to get help. Find a counselor in your area who can help you work through your issues. It may take a while and be difficult at times, but it’s worth it in the long run.
  • Not being able to “choose happiness” doesn’t mean that you should treat others badly. Being miserable is tough, but try your best to treat others kindly and graciously. This doesn’t mean you have to be fake, or walk around with a cheesy smile all day. Simple kind words to others go a long way.
  • You are capable of being happy, you just might have to work way harder at it than other people.
  • Take care of yourself. Find a routine that works for you, take a break when you need it, build a support system and find a counselor that fits your needs. You can find healing.

I know it can be frustrating when people who don’t understand what you’re going through and make comments that are hurtful, but it’s up to us to speak up and educate them. If they truly love and care about you, then they will make the changes necessary to support and encourage you.

This post originally appeared on Gutsy Girl Holistic.

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