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5 Things to Say When You Can't Find the Words to Help Someone With a Mental Illness

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I’ve been that girl. Sometimes I still am.

The one holding her head back to stop the tears from falling. The one clinging on to the corners of her sleeve to stop her whole body from shaking from fear. The one rocking back and forth to keep herself in the moment and stop thinking about all the things overwhelming her. And I’ll tell you what: it’s the worst feeling in the world.

Your world genuinely feels like it is going to end and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. People around you are just carrying on with their everyday lives, and here you are trying to keep yourself together. Your heart feels like it’s tearing apart, and the pain is unbearable. You’re scared, lonely, lost and sad. The panic attacks come and go, and each time it gets harder to bear. You don’t even feel human anymore.

I’ve tried to explain it to people before and have never been able to find the words. Just know it hurt, it still hurts, and yes I’m scared it will always hurt. The complexity of mental illness makes it easy to say the wrong thing, and the fear of making things worse means many people don’t say anything at all. It’s hard to understand unless you have experienced it yourself, and even then, one person’s experience may be very different from the next person’s, but after five years of battling various mental illnesses I’ve come up with a list of things that people have said to me that have made me feel better, even just for a little while:

“I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”

Anxiety and depression make you detached from the world. You feel like everyone hates you and no one gets it. But that’s the thing: they don’t need to get it. After a panic attack, the fear hasn’t gone away; it just presents itself in a different way. Even just having someone touching my arm lets me know I’m not alone and that I don’t have to face this fear by myself.

“I think you’re really strong.”

This is important because anxiety and depression are often caused by desperately low levels of self-esteem, and sometimes you just need to know you’re not as bad a person as you think you are. There are many things people aspire to be — pretty, popular, perfect — but the greatest compliment I will ever receive is to be called “strong.” Because sometimes just the fact that you’re hurting makes you feel as if you have done something wrong, but living in spite of the pain is a superhuman achievement. You won’t know this when you’re going through it. You think you’re the weak one for feeling this way, but in actuality, you’re one of the strongest people alive to have endured this much pain and still be here now.

“I won’t give up on you.”

So many people in my life have gotten fed up and left when they realized there is no quick fix for mental illnesses. I have a constant fear that people are going to desert me. But some people stay. The best people, the people worth knowing, are the ones who stay.

“I believe in you.”

The pain feels like it will never end. You don’t know how you’re going to make it to the next hour, let alone the next day, and you don’t think you’re strong enough. On days like this, when you can’t believe in yourself, you need to know at least one person still believes in you and hasn’t given up on you.

“Take as long as you need.”

I’ve always felt pressured to “just get over it,” to not use up the NHS resources, to not be a “burden” to my family, and all too often this results in me masking my problems and piecing myself back together without having time to let the glue set. And before I know it, my world comes crashing down again. Healing takes time, and it’s a process that can’t be rushed, not by anyone, not even yourself. Give it time. Just give it a little more time.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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Thinkstock photo by Nikuwka

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