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9 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Someone with Mental Illness

things you shouldn't say to someone with mental illnessSometimes, people say the darnedest things, especially when it comes to mental illness.[1] However, even if you aren’t looking to be insensitive, neutral words can be misconstrued by sufferers, as they are in a vulnerable state.1 Therefore, it is important to educate yourself about helpful things to say.1

Here are some examples of problematic statements–things you shouldn’t say to someone with mental illness:

  1. “Get busy, and distract yourself.”1 With significant mental illness, even distractions don’t always work—not even temporarily.1 After all is said and done, they are still left with the same issues. Ignoring the issues don’t make them go away.1
  2. “Do you want to get better?”1 Who doesn’t? In fact, this statement is quite hurtful—even if you don’t mean it to be.1 In fact, it implies that they are suffering on purpose, when they aren’t.1
  3. “Change your attitude.”1 While a change of perspective can be helpful, it doesn’t cure most conditions, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and schizophrenia.1 Plus, changing one’s attitude isn’t really that easy.1 It’s difficult enough for a mentally healthy individual to change their attitude, never mind someone who is debilitated by a mental illness.1
  4. “Don’t focus on the bad stuff. Start living.”1 It’s not good to have a person with a mental illness to stop focusing on themselves.1 It can make them feel worse about themselves and their situation.1 It can make them feel like they are failing.1
  5. “You have everything you need to get better.”1 Well intentioned, but it can make the person feel as if they are not trying hard enough.1 It also may not be accurate.1 Sometimes people just need more assistance to improve.1
  6. “Snap out of it. Everyone feels this way sometimes.”1 Yes, everyone experiences a range of emotions, but feeling sad some days, for example, is not the same as feeling continuously hopeless and in despair.1 It isn’t easy, or possible at times, to just snap out of a mental illness.1
  7. “Pray about it.”1 Prayer is powerful for many, and feeling support from a higher power can be very helpful.1 However, this advice can sometimes minimize the real problem and ignore the advice of medical and psychological treatments.1 It should be used on top of such treatments.1 Plus, not everyone believes in a higher power.1
  8. “Why can’t you work?”1 It is difficult to watch someone who is smart and capable unable to work.1 However, telling a person who is already struggling that they should be doing more to obtain employment when they are in a situation where they can’t is hurtful.1 It makes the person struggling wonder what is wrong with them, dwelling on their struggles even more.1
  9. “You have the same illness as my [insert person].”1 Every person with a mental illness is different.1 Their feelings, emotions, and situations are all different.1 They don’t all belong to one group.1

This can make you wonder if you should say anything at all, but silence is often the worst response.1 Here are some helpful statements:

  • Sincerely express your concern and support.1 (e.g. “You’re having panic attacks? I’m so sorry to hear that. Let me know if there is anything you need.”)1
  • Talk to them the same way you always have.1 This lets them know that your feelings about them or respect for them hasn’t changed.1 Your relationship is stable and full of care.1


[1] Tartakovsky, M. (2013). 9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/04/29/9-things-not-to-say-to-someone-with-mental-illness/

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