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?”

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Getty Images photo via splendens


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