The Four Words You Should Never Say to Someone With Mental Illness

They always start by asking what’s wrong, and I am rarely honest. When I am honest, I always regret it. These situations are the only times when I actually feel worse telling the truth.

I don’t go into detail; that makes everything worse too. So, I’ve become accustomed to saying: “I’m just having a hard time lately.”

They say, “I’m sorry.”

I say, “It’s not your fault.”

Cue the awkward silence.

And then they say this: “Well, you know, Em… it could be worse.” 

Another uncomfortable silence fills the air until I change the subject. 

Then, the conversation ends.

It could be worse.” No four words have ever left me feeling more ashamed, embarrassed and irrelevant.

Of course it could be worse, but do not tell me this in an attempt to comfort me. How could it possibly make me feel better that someone else is experiencing more pain than I am? That the level of difficulty I’m experiencing is nothing compared to what someone else feels?

In this instance, not being alone does not bring me reassurance. In this context, I wish I was alone. I don’t want people to be able to say they can relate to me… that they’ve felt what I’ve felt. And I certainly don’t want them to have experienced worse than I have.

I would never wish what I feel at my lowest point on my worst enemy, and being reminded someone else out there feels that on a higher level only makes my heart ache more.

Some people have even had the audacity to tell me, “Maybe it would make you grateful you’re not worse off than you are.” I am grateful. I do appreciate the life I was given. My illnesses do not make me blind to the blessings I have been granted.

I may struggle with mental illness, but do not think for a second that I lack empathy. I am not ignorant; I know there are people out there who have lives far more challenging than my own. And I do not need to be “gently reminded” of this whenever I am experiencing a rough patch. I am already aware, and I would do anything to change it if I could.

But that doesn’t mean what I feel should be devalued — that my problems and my feelings are unimportant. I am the only one who knows how I feel, and I won’t ever belittle the pain anyone else experiences, should they come to me for solace. Hard is hard.

We as humans need to remember we all struggle. We are all wrestling with something. And we are all capable of being genuine and compassionate.

Maybe if these parts of us were more visible, we would all be more honest when someone decides to ask us that fateful question: “What’s wrong?”

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

Getty Images photo via splendens

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

A fidget ring and bracelet

5 Businesses That Sell Stim and Fidget Jewelry For Adults

Jewelry can be a discreet way to fidget or stim freely as an adult. Fidgeting can be helpful for those on the autism spectrum, as well as people with anxiety, ADHD and other conditions. While it’s common to see fidget spinners and other fidget and stim items designed for kids, it can be difficult to find items designed [...]
Group of young people helping each other during psychotherapy

10 Reasons I Recommend Attending a Mental Health Support Group

After over 10 years of attending individual therapy, I recently decided to make the leap to attend a support group. I was never anti doing so, it was just something I really hadn’t thought of, and thought perhaps it wasn’t for me. After a few tries, I found a support group that I liked and [...]
Young beautiful woman relaxing on window sill in christmas decorated home. Focus on foot

A Self-Care Checklist for Surviving the Holidays

NewThe holidays are upon us, which brings a lot of happy celebrations. The holidays can also bring a lot of difficult emotional triggers, such as painful memories, grief for family members who can’t be with us, or challenging dynamics with family members who are with us. Use this checklist to plan your self-care so that [...]
Businesswoman sitting in a office worried about a problem on her laptop, tired and under the stress

When You're Afraid of Telling Your Work About Your Mental Illness

I have struggled with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. My work life has been an emotional rollercoaster due to fluctuations in my mental health and well-being. Sometimes I’ve been able to cope well with my work commitments and responsibilities. Other times, I’ve failed miserably — becoming overwhelmed and unable to [...]