What Not To Say To Someone With Mental Health Problems

I’ve had people say lots of things to me that were hurtful, distressing, or just plain uncomfortable. Many of the comments were not with bad intentions just lack of information so this is supposed to be a general guide. However of course I can only really speak for myself. Please remember though that if someone reacts badly to a probing question or comment, that even though you might think “well I didn’t mean anything bad by it, I was just trying to help” or “I was just wondering, why get so defensive?” this is a human being. This is a human being that is having health issues and health issues by their very nature can be personal. They can be upsetting. Some people are private people and do not want to be probed and it is not their job to make sure they’re constantly schooling other people in how to treat disabled people with due courteousy. If someone who suffers with a mental health problem tells you something you’ve said has offended or upset them, feel free to ask why that was (but don’t except the sufferer to have an obligation to explain, because they don’t), and apologise even before you understand, because it is them who gets to determine what is or isn’t offensive and not you. Those are some general guidelines…now on to specifics:

“Just get over it.” – If you’ve ever said or even thought that to/about someone with mental health problems I’m not sure it’s worth continuing reading because you totally lack the knowledge even that mental ill-health is by its very definition a HEALTH problem and it is not possible to ‘get over’ a health condition. 

“Exercise and eating healthy will make you feel better!” And stuff like that. Now I don’t doubt this is said in good faith! But do you really think someone with diagnosed mental health problems hasn’t already been told that? If someone tells you they have a mental health problem, they’re not asking for you to suddenly become their therapist or doctor. It’s not your job to try and come up with things to help cure them. If you want to help the best way to do so is to ask if that person would like you to do anything to help. Especially basic things like exercise, eating well, sleeping well, sun etc can come accross as patronising for the long-term sufferer who in all likelihood has tried these things before or makes an effort to involve those things in their life. 

“You’re using it as an excuse.” – Just no. Go away. Yes some people are nasty, yes some people have mental health problems, and some people unfortunately are nasty AND have mental health problems. These individuals may sometimes indeed try to conflate the two but I thoroughly believe in giving the disabled the benefit of the doubt at all times because there is no way that you can really know what is and isn’t as a result of their poor mental health. 

“Go natural/Don’t take medication/Medication doesn’t work/You’ll just end up addicted,” etc. It’s fine to share your own personal stories of being on medication for mental illness. But be sure to understand that’s just YOUR experience and doesn’t prove anything. People with mental health problems don’t usually take the decision to go on strong medication lightly. They have talked to their GP about it already, sometimes even more specialist medical staff and they have made their own, well-informed decision. You need to respect that and understand that the professionals must have advised it.

“Why do you need a carer?” – Please never ask this. If I say I have a carer, or someone is with me as a carer or enabler, if I feel comfortable I will elaborate vaguely on why that is/what kind of things they are here doing for me. I’m getting increasingly confident with this, but to be put on the spot is very distressing. Again I don’t doubt this is said in good faith and just with curiosity but those kind of probing questions shouldn’t be asked in general. If the disabled person feels comfortable talking about it in detail they will do so in their own time. 

“How can you be entitled to -insert disability benefit here-?” Again this is a very personal question and not really any of your business now matter whether your intentions are good or not. You can google disability benefit criteria easily and if you can acknowledge mental ill-health can be a disability then really that’s all there is to it. No difference from a physical disability.

“What mental health condition do you have?” As a general rule you shouldn’t ask people about their health problems anyway as it’s intrusive and health is personal. Just like it’s common etiquette not to ask someone what was “wrong” with them when they say they were unwell. They could have piles ffs and not really want to disclose that to you. Similarly, asking for the name of a diagnosis or whatever is personal and just rude, no matter your intentions.

I have to proof-read my partner’s essay now so this list ends here. Hopefully of some use.

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