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15 Things Not to Say to Someone With a Mental Illness

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As someone who was diagnosed with a third mental illness last year, I can be overly sensitive to what people say or do around me. It got me thinking… How many times do kind, well-meaning people slip up and say something that causes more pain and harm than good?

Here’s a list of things not to say to someone with a mental illness or who is struggling with their mental health.

1. Do not refer to the individual by their illness. I am not the depressed girl or the bipolar chick. I am Nichole. A young woman who happens to struggle with a mental illness.

2. If an individual tries to commit suicide, that does not forever make them suicidal.

3. Someone who has struggled with self-harm should not be referred to as an emo, goth or cutter.

4. Do not tell individuals who struggle with self-harm, depression or anxiety they are doing it for attention or drama. These struggles are real and should be taken seriously.

5. Although I may have a mental illness, don’t call me fragile, broken or weak. I’m a strong, independent, successful woman who happens to be diagnosed with a mental illness.

6. Talking about it doesn’t make it happen again. Talking about depression won’t make me depressed. Talking to others about self-harm won’t make them hurt themselves. Don’t think avoiding the topic is for our own good.

7. Do not blame every emotion or action on my mental illness. I still make my decisions. I (usually) have control of my actions.


8. Things like “Try harder,” “You must not want to get better,” or “It’s your decision to get better,” do not help someone with a mental illness. We are not feeling sorry for ourselves. Many of these illnesses are actually chemical imbalances or neurological disorders.

9. Saying things like “You’re not alone,” can be helpful, but saying something like, “There’s someone worse off than you,” is not.

10. Do not assume you know how the individual feels. Even if you’ve gone through the same situations, or have the same disorder, everyone is different and handles these things differently.

11. “Have you tried drinking tea?” Or, “Have you been taking this supplement or herb?” In some instances this might be OK, but for most it’s like saying, “Have you tried waving a wand and making it all disappear?” It’s just not that simple.

12. “Just get out of bed! Have you tried keeping busy? It will distract you.” Or not. Sometimes getting out of bed can be a huge obstacle and “keeping busy” can seem impossible.

13. “You need to change your attitude or your way of thinking. Just focus on the good things.” Although this can help at times, it’s not an end all solution and should not be meant as such.

14. “You’re just lazy.” No. No, I’m not. The fact that I got out of bed today is a miracle. It was a struggle you probably don’t understand.

15. “You’re not praying hard enough.” As someone who grew up in the church, I have heard this many times. Not only is it unhelpful, it makes the individual feel even worse about themselves. As stated before, many disorders are a chemical imbalance and although I do believe prayer can help and even heal, sometimes we need to use medication or therapy as well. Although this always seems to be a huge controversy, I’d like to say this: If you have a cold you can pray and ask for healing. But if it doesn’t go away immediately, you might look for cough or sinus medication to help ease the discomfort. Mental illness should be treated with the same sort of mindset as any other illness.

What are some other things people say about people with mental illness you cannot stand? Share them in the comments below! Remember, you are not alone. You are special, and you are loved.

A version of this piece originally appeared on Defying Shadows.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world. 

Originally published: August 4, 2015
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