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‘Harmless’ Comments That Actually Hurt People With Tardive Dyskinesia

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Seeking support from loved ones about tardive dyskinesia (TD) can be a vulnerable experience, and sometimes comments that are intended to make you feel better can do the opposite. It may be difficult initially for friends and family to understand what TD is, how it is caused, and how it is treated, which can lead to confusion on how to provide support. Responses can be insensitive and harmful in many ways, even when they are intended to be supportive and encouraging. 

Whether supporting a spouse, acquaintance, family member, or friend, helping any loved one navigate TD can be a learning process. Keep reading for 10 examples of “harmless” comments that can have more of an impact than you might think.  

  1. “It’s not even that bad; I can tell.”

TD looks different for everyone. Regardless of the severity of one’s condition, this can be perceived as an insensitive comment — even if intended to make them feel better. In general, it is good practice to steer clear of comments that make assumptions and/or differ from someone’s own feeling about their condition.  

  1. “At least you can do ___.”

 Noting abilities and accomplishments, no matter the skill level, can be helpful in some cases. However, assuming what someone can and cannot do comfortably can invalidate their experience. Try acknowledging your loved one’s strengths in other ways, instead of relating it to the severity of their condition.  

  1. “Just stop/change your medication.”

 Since TD is a condition that can be caused by taking antipsychotics, it might seem like a logical treatment option is altering the medication. However, stopping a medication dosage can be an extremely emotional choice, and it is not the right treatment option for everyone. Treatment plans should be finalized between the patient and their doctor to determine what is best for the individual, and comments such as these can overstep.  

  1. “If the medicine’s not working, stop it.”

 Oftentimes, a medication that provides significant relief for conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can simultaneously be causing TD. Although this comment could be intended to be helpful by identifying the problem, it is assuming information that could be untrue. 

  1. “It’s just a side effect, so it’s fine!”

 Even though TD is technically considered a side effect of taking medication, it exists as its own distinct condition. Therefore, it should be treated as such, and comments like these should be avoided.  

  1. I’ve never seen anyone move like that before!”

Even if you may be unfamiliar with TD and its symptoms, confusion can come across as being insensitive. If you have interest in learning more about TD, consider asking your loved one to kindly share as much information as they are comfortable with, or consult other resources to learn more. Education is the best foundation to support a loved one, so learning facts about TD such as the signs and symptoms is a great place to start. 

  1. “Can’t you just try to stop those movements?”

The most common symptom of TD is involuntary movements, which are difficult (or even impossible) for the individual to control. Similar to the previous comment, educating yourself on the common symptoms can help you avoid accidentally making someone feel worse. 

  1. “You’re probably stressed out – just try calming your nerves.”

Although stress and anxiety can contribute to worsening symptoms of TD, they are not the cause. For many, the involuntary movements of TD persist regardless of stress and anxiety, and this can be perceived as unhelpful advice. 

  1. “You’re just being overly self-conscious.”

Even if intended to be uplifting, it’s best to avoid comments that assume someone’s opinion about their own condition and experience. 

  1. “You should just ignore it and focus on something else.”

 TD is a condition that can impact many aspects of an individual’s life, including their social and emotional well-being. Practice treating your loved one with compassion, rather than suggesting they avoid their condition and its impact.

A comment that is perceived to be helpful by one person can have a significant impact on someone else. It is essential to approach conversations about TD with empathy and support, and try your best to avoid any assumptions or comments that can come across as harmful. 

If any of the above comments resonate with you, you are not alone. Remember the people in your support network are ultimately there to help you, and open communication about how they can do that will make for meaningful connections.

Originally published: October 6, 2023
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