With the world becoming more and more open to talking about mental health, particularly during the current climate, it’s a shame that there is still such a massive stigma surrounding people’s struggles and how people essentially cope with their declining mental health.
There can also be some misunderstanding about how to talk to people appropriately and positively in order to be helpful and not impairing.
It seems that everyone has an opinion on how you manage your own difficulties, and everyone likes to give you advice and suggestions, which, more often than not, can actually be detrimental to your recovery.
It seems that no one really talks about how damaging people’s reactions to discussions about mental health can actually be to someone who is struggling in an attempt to recover and manage their health effectively.
There are lots of things that people may or may not realise can be unsupportive to say to someone who is trying to manage their mental health.
Here are a few that I have found to be quite predominant:
1. “It could always be worse.”
Realistically you’re right; it probably could in some cases. But you know what? It’s not a competition when it comes to your health. If you broke your arm—but only a little bit of your arm, not the whole thing—would you tell someone not to go to the hospital? Of course you wouldn’t, so why should your mental health be any different?
Regardless of the severity, mental health issues are not something you need to compare with others. If something is having a significant effect on you and your well-being/life, then it’s important to talk to someone or try to manage it effectively, to also stop it from becoming worse.
Whether you’re struggling a lot and it is affecting your daily life, or it is something with slightly less of a distressing impact, it is still significant to you and is something that you have every right to talk about and to get help for.
2. “One in four people struggle with their mental health, so it’s not just you.”
Although this is true, and the intention of this comment may be to try and make you feel less alone due to the isolating impact of mental health, it seems to diminish the fact that you are facing a real and serious problem. It can make someone feel small and insignificant as you are not being treated as though you are a person, and you are just one in another statistic.
If mental health issues are now so common, why are we still talking to people as though they don’t matter? It’s time to recognise that everyone’s struggles are individual to them, and it’s not something that we should compare to other people—everyone struggles in different ways, and something that might not seem significant to you, could be the reason someone else feels suicidal or hopeless.
It’s time we start taking people more seriously and not belittling their struggles.
3. “I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Nobody can tell you that they know exactly what you’ve had to go through unless they are, in fact, you, which they aren’t. I recognise people aren’t intentionally trying to upset you by making these comments and are trying to let you know that they understand. However, it can be frustrating to people in that position when people make their judgements and opinions known to you and act as though they know exactly what you should do to make yourself better when it isn’t quite that simple.
The best thing to do is to just let someone know that you are there for them and understand that it is difficult to open up. Allow them to do this in their own time, and make them feel comfortable to talk to you.
4. “Why don’t you stop doing _____. That can’t be good for you.”
So this could vary from “don’t stay in the house all day” to “stop listening to music.” Whether these may seem insignificant isn’t the point. People have different coping strategies, and just because something works for you doesn’t mean that it works for everyone else. For example, for some people going outside may be extremely beneficial for their mental health. Nevertheless, other people may appreciate spending some time indoors doing an activity in which they enjoy as the environment can feel safer and less daunting.
Different coping strategies work better for different people and different personalities; therefore, your opinion on what works for someone isn’t always the right one. Don’t get me wrong, people will always appreciate suggestions and listening to what works for you because something you say might really work well, but don’t tell anyone that what they’re doing is wrong or tell them to stop doing something just because it doesn’t work for you—this can be taken to be judgmental and can be harmful.
5. “Only you can push yourself to feel better.”
As much as you might be trying to motivate someone, this can be debilitating. If people are lacking in motivation (which people struggling with their mental health often tend to be), telling someone that only they can change their future can possibly have a negative impact on their recovery and can also affect their willingness to engage with support from either services or their support network.
“Pushing yourself” can be extremely difficult, and without support from others, this can make you feel lonely and secluded. Support and encouragement from a good network of friends and family are so important.
Never make anyone feel like they have to manage alone.