17 'Harmless' Comments Psychiatrists Said That Actually Hurt Their Patients
Seeing a psychiatrist and taking medication can be a big part of healing for many who’ve struggled with mental health in their lives. And as people who have been open with a psychiatrist know, it can be an incredibly vulnerable and scary experience — especially when you’re going through the process of medication trial and error.
So when that highly-trained stranger makes a seemingly “harmless” — but actually invalidating and painful — comment, it leaves a mark that is often hard to erase.
Maybe your psychiatrist dismissed your depression and chalked it up to needing better eating and exercise habits. Maybe lack of experience with your particular diagnosis led them to make a sweeping and harmful generalization about people with your condition. Or maybe your psychiatrist let you go as a client because they just couldn’t figure out the right medication to help you — triggering feelings of being undeserving or “past help.”
And while we should absolutely acknowledge psychiatrists are only human and recognize everyone’s needs from medication are different, it’s important we talk about the harmful things psychiatrists have said to patients, because the reality is, the way professionals talk to their patients can affect the way that patient seeks help for the rest of their life.
We wanted to know what “harmless” comments psychiatrists said to their patients that actually hurt their mental health, so we asked our mental health community to share one with us and explain what it felt like to hear it.
If you have been mistreated or invalidated by a psychiatrist, you’re not alone. Good psychiatrists are out there, and even when mental illness makes it hard to seek out help, we encourage you to not give up on recovery and to keep fighting — because you deserve support and healing.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “You are a complex case.”
“True, I am. But at the time when he told me that truth, I felt like I’d never get better and there was no hope for me. I wasn’t ready to hear that.” — Amy W.
2. “I’m not sure what to do with you.”
“‘I’m just not sure what to even try at this point…’ I cried for a solid half hour once I got to my car… I’m only 27… It makes life seem even more bleak when your psychiatrist is at a loss for what to do to help you.” — Suzie E.
“‘You’re going to need to find another doctor. I’m out of options for you.’ It made me feel hopeless and like I wasn’t worth help. If I didn’t have the support group I have, I don’t know what I would have done.” — Courtney G.
“‘I don’t really know what to tell you at this point.’ If a person who specializes in mental health didn’t know what to say in order to help me out, how was I supposed to feel like there was any hope I’d ever get better?” — Emilie R.
3. “You don’t look like you’re depressed…”
“‘You seem to be very social and have a lot of friends for someone with such severe depression.’ Like really? Does my social circle really have any relation to the mental illness I struggle with? He’s a good therapist but this was one pretty ignorant thing I remember him saying to me. It actually still hurt though because then I just wondered and questioned irrationally if I even deserved having the friends I do have.” — Lexie M.
“I really believe being told ‘you seem so put together and happy’ is a dangerous thing. It’s called acting, something I had to do/still do to survive. It doesn’t mean I’m OK, it means I’m good at covering things up. Why would I be in your office if I was really fine?” — Amanda E.
“I was told one time that my depression couldn’t be that bad because I had put makeup on. Never mind the fact I hadn’t slept in a week or eaten any real food in days or that I hadn’t showered in a week. But sure my ‘depression’ was under control.” — Alexis M.
4. “Man up.”
“‘Man up!’ Told her I’d be outside… Father had just passed. (No I didn’t wait for her, but didn’t pay either.)” — Brent H.
5. “You just need to exercise and eat healthier.”
“‘You need to exercise, it will help… Don’t think about it, just get up and go!’ I wish it were that simple… this was after me telling her I couldn’t even make myself leave the house.” — Amelia R.
“‘Maybe you should try cutting out carbs.’ ([I was] trying to explain worsening depression and exhaustion.)” — Brandy F.
“‘If you lose weight, your depression will go away.’” — Alicia W.
“My ‘doc’ told me if I exercised and ate better my severe depression would go away. I never saw her again.” — Linda H.
6. “Everyone has anxiety.”
“‘Everyone has anxiety.’ Thanks doc! Makes me feel so much better… smdh.” — Netty R.
7. “No one will hire you if they see the scars on your wrists.”
“‘No one will hire you with scars on your wrists.’ Her comment did nothing to make me want to stop self-harming. It only made the urges worse.” — Hayley L.
8. “If you really didn’t want to live, you wouldn’t be alive.”
“That if I really didn’t want to live, I would have already done something about it. My feelings just didn’t seem valid after that.” — Paige A.
9. “You don’t look like you have anorexia…”
“‘You’re struggling with anorexia? But you haven’t lost any weight.’ Made me restrict even more.” — Abbie B.
10. “Being in a relationship would be so good for you.”
“‘If you only had a boyfriend…’ Like that’s the cure for everything! And on every visit since then: ‘So how about a boyfriend? Did you get one already? That would really be so good for you!’” — Katharina L.
11. “I’ve never seen so much trauma in someone so young!”
“I wasn’t halfway through my life story and he cut me off with…’I’ve never seen so much trauma in someone so young.’” — Jewellia C.
12.”Your bad thoughts aren’t going away, so you might as well get used to them.”
“I had a psychiatrist in inpatient tell me, ‘Your bad thoughts are never going to go away, so you might as well get used to it.’ After hearing this, I have never been more suicidal. It was one of the most deadly things someone could ever tell me that essentially it’s never gonna get better. I was deeply troubled from these words for a while.” — Tara R.
13. “There is no cure for your condition.”
“I was told by a psychiatrist: ‘you have borderline personality disorder and there is no cure for your illness. You will be this way for the rest of your life. All we can do for you is try to treat your symptoms.’ It came totally out of the blue and in that moment, she took away all my hope of recovery and having a normal life again, and I fell into the deepest darkest depression. Thankfully now I see a therapist who is helping me recover not only from my illness, but also the damage done by the psychiatrist’s words.” — Nyree L.
“‘You have borderline personality disorder. You will never get better.’ That comment left me feeling hopeless about my future.” — Kimberly L.
14. “You can’t be anxious and depressed.”
“I was once told by a government psychiatrist that I couldn’t have anxiety and be depressed at the same time because anxiety is an ‘upper’ and depression is a ‘downer,’ so they would cancel each other out.” — Gina C.
15. “Your depression and anxiety aren’t that bad. I don’t know why you are here.”
“’Your depression and anxiety aren’t that bad at all! I don’t know why you’re here.’ At a time when I was having three to four panic attacks a day, and having suicidal attacks.” — Iffat S.
16. “So motherhood isn’t agreeing with you?”
“‘So motherhood isn’t agreeing with you?’ Mind you, I had twins and have no close family, was sleep deprived, hormonal and diagnosed with depression/anxiety [and] unmedicated because of pregnancy.” — Tracy P.
17. “You’re coping fine on your own.”
“The worst thing a psychiatrist said to me was that I didn’t need any extra help and they were referring me back to my GP. That I was coping fine on my own. This is because I had never attempted suicide, although I confessed to frequent suicidal ideations. It left me thinking that I would actually need to follow through with my ideations in order to be listened to.” — Jenny B.
If you’re feeling unsupported in therapy, check out these seven signs it might be time to find a new therapist. While finding the right therapist or psychiatrist sometimes takes work, it’s worth it.
Getty Images photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz