Friends at the beach. Text reads: 28 things people with mental illness want to tell their friends, but don't

28 Things People With Mental Illness Want to Tell Their Friends, but Don't

Even with close friends, it can be hard sometimes to articulate what you need. And if you live with a mental health condition, your needs may feel…well, extra “needy.” But your needs are not needy, “too much” or “unreasonable” just because you live with a mental illness — they just might be harder to communicate, especially if your friend doesn’t also experience mental health challenges.

To get a little more honest about what people with mental illnesses want to tell their friends, we asked people in our mental health community to share one thing they wish they could say to their friends, but don’t.

You might be able to relate:

1. “I’m sorry I cancel plans so often. It’s never your fault and I wish I could explain my anxiety and mental illness better, but it feels like I am just giving you the same excuses, over and over again.”

2. “I don’t know how to ask for help. I don’t always know what I need or why I am triggered. Please be patient and keep being my friend in little ways: a cup of coffee, vacuuming… just watching a silly TV show with me. It is in these little ways I get what I need, not grand gestures and platitudes.”

3. “Sometimes with my depression, I don’t want to make plans with someone because I want to be alone. It’s really not your fault, it’s me. On the other hand, please try your best to encourage me to make plans because when I’m alone, my anxiety gets the best of me.”

4. “Mental illness is exhausting! This is a situation not of my own making. And it’s not something I can just walk away from. I can’t just think positively and have it all disappear. I fear I will never feel like myself again, and I miss me. But I am trying. I struggle every hour of every day.”

5. “My borderline personality disorder isn’t a simple matter of getting mad now and then or getting bothered when I’m alone like everyone does. It’s a mental illness that evokes intense symptoms. When I open up about my struggles, please don’t minimize them. Sometimes I will actually tell [friends] this because I’m often met with minimization or comments such as, ‘I get mad too, doesn’t everyone have this?!’ or ‘Oh my gosh I think I have it too!’ It’s extremely disrespectful. It seems people don’t take the time to understand the reality of my mental illnesses.”

6. “I’m still the same awesome person I always am, I’m just dealing with a lot of issues, but I’m still worthy of love and kindness.”

7. “There is so much you don’t see. From the outside it all seems so easy, but it’s not. Every day is a struggle for me and small tasks like showering or brushing my teeth sometimes zap all of my energy. I cry a lot. I break down a lot. For every happy time we have together, there are hours of solitude and sadness and flashbacks and rehashing all of the traumas that made me who I am today. It can be devastating.”

8. “I promise I care about your problems, too. Sometimes, though, I’m fighting so hard just to keep my head straight, I don’t have the strength to handle anything else other than existing. I’m ignoring everything else because it is taking all my focus right now to breathe. I’ll try to make it up to you when I’ve pulled myself together, I swear.”.

9. “In the times when I don’t reach out to you, that’s probably when I need you the most. My mental illness has convinced me I’m not worthy of help and care, so I retreat. You showing care and kindness can help me see what my mind is telling me isn’t true. That there are people who care. That I’m worthwhile. Sometimes all it takes is a text message.”

10. “I’m not avoiding you, I promise. I work all day pretending to be someone I’m not, and at the end of the day, I feel like if I even try to hang out or have a conversation, I’m going to be an utter disappointment to you.”

11. “There is so much more to my mental illness than what I tell you because I’m terrified you won’t be able to cope with me — I know I can’t a lot of the time — and I will lose you. It hurts to keep everyone at arm’s length, to not feel able to open up about what I’m going through — but that pain is less than the agony of losing people I care about, which has happened so many times throughout my life, when they can’t deal with the full extent of my mental illness.”

12. “I don’t mean to talk in harsh or negative tones, I don’t mean to sound like I’m talking [down to you]… my anxiety gets so high I speak in my rushed thoughts. My anxiety sometimes prevents me from seeing how I come off to people when I try to speak. I’m not mad, just anxious.”

13. “Don’t keep telling me, ‘It’s going to be fine.’ Don’t ask me, ‘You seem like you’re in a bad mood, are you taking your medications?’ We can have bad days too. I’m not broken, don’t treat me like I am.”

14. “I wish you could understand why I don’t text you first. I wish I could tell you about the noise in my head and why I don’t hear what you say half of the time. I’m sorry it sounds like I’m making excuses. I’m not trying to. I’m sorry I seem to be so focused on myself, that I rarely focus on you. I know I’m not the best friend in the world, but it means so much to me that you’ve stayed. Even if we don’t talk much, I know you’re there, and that makes all the difference.”

15. “Support from friends and family matters a lot! Even if you don’t know what to say, know that reaching out and checking in is a million times better than saying nothing at all. Being honest to friends and family about having a mental illness takes a lot of vulnerability and silence from the people that matter most can be truly devastating. Mental illness tells us that no one cares, but something as simple as a text message that says hi can help to reverse that thinking!”

16. “Every day is a constant struggle to keep moving forward and I truly appreciate how understanding my friends and family are. That you still invite me to things even though a lot of the time I decline, the fact that I’m still invited means more than you will ever know. Also the reason I never RSVP is because I never know up until that day how manageable my mood or anxiety will be.”

17. “Please, let me know you care. Because even though the reality may be otherwise, I fear you don’t. All I ask is for you to be there and comfort me, help me get through it. Even if I say I need to be alone, the opposite may be true. Just let me know you’ll be there and you’ll listen. You don’t have to say anything or try to ‘fix’ me. I just need you to be there for me, whether through a text or a hug, that’s all I ask until I feel like myself again.”

18. “I’m sorry I go quiet instead of talking to you. It’s not that I don’t enjoy talking. It’s just that I feel a mental block sometimes and it’s easier for me to lie in the dark and try to forget about everything.”

19. “I’m sorry for worrying you half to death, it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m just going through so many health issues, I wish I could explain, but I am still the silly random funny person you love, I’m still trying to figure out everything, and I swear I’m really trying my best to get back into the spirit of everything, but it’s going to take some time to get over, I still love everyone.”

20. “I may look confident, happy, strong. I am not. Deep down I’m screaming, pleading for help. I cry myself to sleep every night, and force myself to get up every single morning. Please forgive my rudeness, this is not who I really am, but I’m scared of what could happen if show you what my illness has done to me.”

21. “Having a mental illness weighs me down constantly. I know my friends try to make the environment a better place, but mostly I can’t escape the constant sadness in my head.”

22. “I am good at pretending everything is OK. You will never see the losing battle I deal with each day. Because you will only see me smile and hear my laughter. I’m sorry I upset you when I constantly cancel our plans. Sometimes I’m too anxious to leave the house and even minutes before meeting you, I will cancel with a poor excuse… I know I need and want your company, but sometimes I feel like mine is a burden.”

23. “I appreciate your kindness even if you don’t understand what I’m going through. Please be patient with me! I do care and I do try my best.”

24. “I’m sorry I get so obsessed with certain subjects sometimes, but focusing on one thing, no matter how weird or insignificant, helps me cope not only with the stress of day to day life but also with the constant anxiety my OCD and SAD cause, plus all the symptoms that come with depression.”

25. “Depression and anxiety can hit me out of nowhere mid-sentence or during a good laugh — even when I am with you, seeming happy, energetic and talkative. My illness doesn’t ask; the sadness just takes over no matter where you are and when.”

26. “My mental illnesses are extremely exhausting. I may seem lazy to be napping and tired all the time, but it takes so much energy to fight your own mind every hour of every day while doing all the important things of college life. Just because I take lots of breaks and can’t do everything other people do so easily doesn’t mean I am lazy or careless. It just takes me double the energy to get things done than it does for other people.”

27. “I’m not fragile, I’m not going to break. Stop walking on egg shells around me. The last thing my anxiety and depression needs is to be treated like I have a ‘handle with care’ sticker on me.”

28. “I want to express my gratitude to you. Because without you, I wouldn’t be fighting this hard. Without you, being well and healthy wouldn’t be this exciting. I strive to be balanced because seeing you worrying about me makes me feel awful. I always want to keep this smile on my face because I don’t want to take away that smile on your face; your happiness is my source of strength.”


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With Mental Illness, I Can't Always 'Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway'

My life with mental illness is a series of ups and downs. During the downs, the very act of surviving takes every scrap of energy, courage and strength I can muster. But during the ups, I want to live — and more than that — I want to enjoy life.

The thing is, though, it’s rarely easy.

The phrase, “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” taken from the seminal self-help book of the same name, has become a mantra for encouraging us to grab the bull by the horns and face our anxieties and self-doubts head on. But when you struggle with mental illness, the fear can be so intense, so overwhelming, that “doing it anyway,” simply isn’t an option.

All too often, my self-esteem is so lacking that I just don’t believe I’m capable or worthy of doing whatever it is that I’d really like to do. I’m absolutely certain I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not talented enough, not “well” enough.

Take something simple, like going to church choir practice. I want to go, I really do. But my “messed up” mind starts telling me all the reasons I shouldn’t. What makes you think you’re a good enough singer? It goads me. Everyone will be secretly laughing at you. No one wants you there, they’re just too polite to tell you. You don’t fit in, remember? You’re crazy if you think you could ever be part of this.

Before I know it, I’ve talked myself out of going. But then, I chastise myself. You’re pathetic. What’s the big deal? Everyone else manages to go without having an existential crisis about it.

The result? I end up curled in my bed, lonely, sad, hating myself for my ineptitude, my lack of perseverance, my “weakness.” I curse myself for not being able to do something I really wanted to do. And it feeds the monsters that live in my mind and tell me I’m useless, worthless, good for nothing.

I know I “should” be able to feel the fear and do it anyway, but I can’t. The fear that comes with mental illness is not something that can be overcome by taking a couple of deep breaths and “growing a pair.” It takes on a life of its own, and convinces me this thing I’m facing, whatever it might be, is too much.

Sometimes, I let a friend in. I tell someone how scared I’m feeling, how overwhelmed. But often, their kind and gentle encouragement makes me feel worse. They mean to build me up and give me confidence. They tell me I can do it, tell me I’m strong enough, but I can’t and I’m not, and that adds to the sense of failure.

Occasionally — very occasionally — I do try to face my fears, bolstered by medication that helps suppress the all-consuming sense of terror. And invariably, it’s not as terrifying as I expected. In fact, I gain strength from the fact I did it, even if it was with the support of medication. Those times are few and far between, but they give me a sliver of hope that it won’t always be like this.

For now, though, I have to accept I’m not always able to face my fears. All of my efforts are channelled into keeping my head above the water, and adding extra strain can easily pull me under.

To outsiders, I know it must look as if I’m not trying, as if I’m giving in too easily. Please know I really am trying – but that I have to respect my limits, or I’m in danger of making myself more unwell. Please don’t stop encouraging me, but understand I’m not always going to be able to “man up” or “just get on with it.”

Because when you live with mental illness, it’s not always possible to “feel the fear and do it anyway,” no matter how much you want to.

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A Message for People Battling the 'Evil Twins' of Mental Illness

I want to talk about the “evil twins” of mental illness: guilt and shame. Even though they are so incredibly strong and color our lives so much, they can be defeated.

Shame is a b*tch. It really is. Especially shame for having a mental illness. Why is that something to be ashamed of? Are people ashamed when they break their leg? No. It can happen to anyone, just like mental illness can. Any size, shape, creed, color, background, orientation, social class. It can happen to anyone. If you have a mental illness, there is nothing you did wrong, and there is nothing you did to “earn” or “deserve” it. It just happened. And there is absolutely no shame in that, no matter what society or your demons say. You didn’t choose this, and it isn’t your fault. I promise.

And that leads us to guilt. I find guilt and shame go hand in hand. You will rarely find one without the other. I believe guilt makes us believe we are everything our demons say we are, that this is our fault, that we deserve it. This is not true! We are so much more than what our demons say we are. We are so much more than what our minds may lead us to believe. We are worth so much more. Many of our lives are already not made easy by the presence of mental illness. We can’t give in to what the evil twins want us to believe.

We should not feel shame for being sick. We should not feel guilty for being sick. It is not our fault. We did not choose this. And we do not deserve this. If you hold true to these things, even when it’s dark and lonely and you’re surrounded by screaming demons, I believe you will have a foothold in the climb to recovery. I have faith in you.

I know you didn’t ask for this. I know you don’t deserve this. I know you don’t want to be sick. I don’t either. But I do know you have the inner strength, the endurance, the tenacity and the will to continue forward and reach recovery. You can do it. I can do it. We can, and will do it.

Give shame and guilt the bird. Remind myself of your strength, your beauty and your will to endure, and keep moving. We got this.

Stay strong.

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Thinkstock photo via Alvaro Cabrera jimenez. 

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How to Help a Friend Who Is Struggling With Mental Illness

It’s pain. You feel it in your heart, looking at your loved one who’s struggling. You want to do anything to help them. You want to tell them how wonderful they are. You want to explain how much love you have for them. You’re not sure they’d hear it right now though.

Actually, you’re definitely sure they won’t.

You see them day in and day out, fighting the intangible demons in their soul and you just want to fight with them. You want to stand at their side and tell them you know how strong they are, that this is something temporary and this too shall pass. You’ve seen them come back from darker moments but you’re not sure if this is the one that breaks the camel’s back.

You want to be their strength in this time of weakness. You want to carry them on your back as their knees get weaker and weaker and standing becomes almost too much for them to bear. As life kicks them square in the jaw, you’re the one picking them up every time and reminding them they can do this. They can get through this.

How do I know about the pain you’re feeling while struggling to love your loved one? I see that same pain in the faces of the people who love me every time I feel like giving up. I hear the determination in their voice to try to save me when I’m at my lowest point in my depression.

I feel their love when the numbness takes over my entire body and getting out of bed isn’t going to happen that day.

I fully believe people with mental illnesses are warriors who are so strong, embracing their struggles and dealing with their shit. I also know that their loved ones, our loved ones, are heroes. Sometimes our loved ones are the only shining beacon of light in dark and painful times.

I know it’s hard for me to appreciate those people when I’m struggling. It’s hard for me to remember every single person who showers me with unconditional love when my heart is broken into millions of little pieces. Those people crouch beside me and help me pick up the pieces time and time again. They lie next to me when I can’t get out of bed and comfort me by just being there.

I know there’s things you wish you could do — a way to take the pain away that’s plaguing your loved one so bad right now. I know there’s a need to fix everything. I also know there’s a helplessness you feel when you realize that sometimes you can’t do something to help. Sometimes there isn’t a right thing to say. Sometimes there isn’t a right thing to do. No matter what, the love you give is enough. It’s enough to be just a phone call away. It’s enough to just give us a hug when things feel like they’re collapsing. It’s enough to just be there.

So this is an appreciation to all the loved ones out there who are loving the shit out of people with mental illnesses. This is also for the people who don’t turn their back when someone is struggling to deal with their own heartache. This is for the people who continuously love no matter what.

You are appreciated for being you and for loving us when we need it most. Thank you.

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Finding Hope When My Best Efforts as a Therapist Fail

Like many helping professionals, I started out in a master’s program with the goal of helping other people. I dreamed about holistically changing lives. I thought with the right training, I could truly help others. I thought it was my purpose in life.

Now I am a young therapist, two years in if you count my internships. I don’t even have a state license yet. I work in an emergency room, assessing patients with psychiatric needs. I help them get the treatment they need, provide resources, refer to outpatient providers. Sounds like a helpful thing, right? It is, some days. Until I feel like I have miserably failed my patients.

If I’ve learned anything in these two years, it’s that America’s mental health system is broken. When it comes to a disposition, i.e. where the patient is going to go next, we have few options in the ER. If a patient is cooperative and wants treatment and fits in these little boxes, everything works out. Except I work with people, and very few fit into a little box that a government agency or a CEO of a for-profit hospital system came up with. A lot more people fall through the cracks.

I have urged families to call the police on their own children because there’s no other way to get them to treatment. I have witnessed mentally ill patients be taken to jail, and there was nothing I could do. I have cared for patients who have been in the ER for days at a time, with minimal medical care, because they cannot function outside a facility. But no facility we try to get them to wants to care for them, so they just lie there until we can figure out some sort of plan or we can no longer legally hold them.

I have admitted people to a psychiatric facility knowing it probably wouldn’t help them but having to prioritize my hospital’s liability. I have hospitalized patients who truly needed it but who may lose their job due to “unexcused” absences. And they do lose their jobs every day, whether that’s “legal” or not. I have encouraged people that they will get better, when really I have no idea.

I have admitted transgender and gender nonconforming patients to facilities, unsure if their hormone regimen or even gender identity will be honored once they’re in the hospital. I’ve had to explain to them and their partners that their identity likely won’t be honored, in fact. I’ve attempted to give them autonomy in the decision but worry they’ll be traumatized no matter what.

I have advocated for patients, only to be shut down. I’ve watched as patients I knew went to the ICU after suicide attempts. I admit the same patients over and over again because nothing the system has to offer is really helping.

I’ve had good days too.

I have advocated for patients and actually succeeded. I let a patient smoke after I had to tell him he’d be admitted involuntarily. I volunteered to watch him myself. It significantly helped his anxiety in that really scary moment.

I made a patient smile after my usual joke of “hope I don’t see you again… in a good way” as he left the ER. I’ve had parents hug me, patients too. I’ve been told I’m the first person to actually help them. A patient I know really well told me how much her outpatient group was truly helping her gain insight. Some patients recover and live their lives and never see me again. That’s a good thing.

I know I help some days. But I can’t help but wonder what happens to my patients after they leave my ER. I worry for my patient when I send her to a hospital I know has a bad reputation. I do it anyway because I have to. My job is to get her out of the ER and get her to whatever facility accepts her first. Choice isn’t really part of the deal. I’ve called CPS on parents who simply didn’t want to pick up their child from the ER. I don’t know what happens to them.

I see a lot of people who shouldn’t have any diagnoses but do because we have to label them to bill their insurance and get them help. And that label could stick for decades until someone is brave enough to challenge it. I see others who have never been diagnosed, and just giving them an idea of what could be going on is life-changing because now they have a direction in which to go. They needed answers more than anything else.

I hear about horrific trauma and abuse. And I assess entitled people who want a magic pill to fix all their problems. I wish I could offer that. People ask me for more pain pills, even though I know they’ve gotten early refills for months. When I say no, they scream at me.

Sometimes, my best efforts fail. The reason I say this is because there are a lot of people out there who need to know that a bad experience with the mental health system doesn’t mean they’re all bad. Many of us really do care about each and every patient we see. We know what we’re up against with the resources we have, and we wish it were different. But right now, all we can do is fight for the best care we can give in the moment.

Working in mental health has taught me how little control I have. I only have control over what I say and how I treat people. So I hope to use that to empower people to take back their mental health and their lives, and to stand as their ally.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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10 Songs to Help on 'Bad' Mental Health Days

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

We all have those “bad days” — days where the protection of sheets and blankets seems like the safest place to be, like nothing bad can happen if I remain ensconced among the soft cotton and feather quilt.

They are days where my neck and shoulders ache from tension and I feel like my jaw is going to explode right off the sides of my face. Days when every face seems like judgment day and every whisper sounds like an accusation, a guilty verdict. Days when every noise sounds like impending doom and destruction. Days when nothing seems to go right and I have to concentrate on breathing and taking it slow. One step at a time. One foot in front of the next.

On days like these, I find comfort and release in music … sometimes. When nothing else is there for me, these songs help pull me through.

1. “Break On Me” by Keith Urban

This song is an actual emotional release, perfectly describing “those days.” It feels like a hug.

2. “How Not To” by Dan + Shay

This song is about recovery and endurance through strength and love. It helps me to know all is not lost and better days are ahead.

3. “Keep Your Head Up” by Andy Grammer

This is a happy beat — just a small reminder to “keep your head up” through the tough days.

4. “Humble and Kind” by Tim McGraw

Just a reminder there a good people in the world.

5. “Why” by Rascal Flatts

This is a very emotional one and very close to my heart. Rascal Flatts sing about the tragedy of suicide and the terrible aftermath.

6. “Let It Hurt” by Rascal Flatts

Here is another emotional release. Take all that pain and “let it hurt, let it bleed.” I’ve cried through this song countless times and felt better afterward. Essentially about bullying but can really take on any meaning.

7. “Stand By You” by Rachel Platten

This one is a reminder you have your “people” and they won’t leave you. The music is uplifting and the words are inspiring.

8. “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten

This song is empowering. Keep fighting!

9. “Gravity” by Sarah Bareille

I like this song because it can be interpreted in countless ways. It’s about whatever is pulling you into a negative gravity. The music is enchanting and I find it to be eye-opening and uplifting.

10. “Here Comes Goodbye” by Rascal Flatts

This last one is one of my favorites. It does have a bit of a morbid twist, but at the same time, it shows love and afterlife. There are sadness and comfort in the lyrics. The music is poignant and flows over you.

Music like this has saved me many times. I am not alone. Neither are you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Unsplash photo via Sai Kiran Anagani

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