These are all things people have said to me when I’ve tried to open up to them about how I’m feeling. If you’re guilty of one or more of these don’t be dismayed: this isn’t an attack, just some advice on how to phrase things better. When you’re in a depressed or suicidal state of mind you become hyper sensitive, and libel to take everything the wrong way. It can be very hard to find the right words even if you know the person extremely well, so hopefully this should help.
1. Keep fighting
Like, what exactly do you think I’ve been doing all these years? I don’t need to be told, and I don’t need anyone to take the effort I put every day for granted.
Try instead: “I know how hard you’re trying and you’re doing such a great job. I’m going to do what I can to make this easier for you.” This expresses the same sentiment but in a more supportive way.
2. Stay safe
Sometimes this isn’t something I can manage by myself, and telling me to isn’t going to make it happen. If I’ve reached out to you, try to do something to make sure I am safe rather than putting all the pressure on me.
Try instead: “How can I help you stay safe?” If you can before it gets to this stage, try to work on a safety plan together.
3. Ask for help if you need it!
If you’re telling me this then I AM asking for help, you’re just not hearing me. Don’t put the onus on me to ask for help- I’m exhausted enough without putting myself out there. Offer help, don’t make me beg for it.
Try instead: “Can I come over/bring you food/take you to an appointment?” Offer something concrete.
4. I’m there if you need me
You might be there for me, but I need people to be here. And I do need you, there’s no if about it. If you really care, do something.
Try instead: “I’m here for you, is there anything I can do?” Again, try to offer something concrete. It can be hard to believe anything will help but if you suggest something I might take you up on your offer.
5. Don’t do something stupid
Don’t invalidate my feelings. What I’m going through is very real and while my behaviour might not make sense to outsiders, it makes sense to me. When you label my behaviour as stupid, you make me feel stupid too.
Try instead: “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” Studies have shown that asking this won’t put the idea into people’s heads. It’s safe to ask and it could save a life.
6. I know how you feel
No, you don’t. Even if you have gone through a mental illness its different for everyone, so you should never presume to understand how much pain someone is in. Different people experience different symptoms and intensities of suicidal ideation, and they need to be supported in different ways. Some of the most unhelpful responses Ive got to my illness have been from people who have gone through it themselves.
Try instead: “How are you feeling?” It’s an open question and you have to be prepared for the possibility that I/whoever doesn’t want to talk about it. But really listening can give you a better insight and help determine what level of care is needed.
7. Don’t feel sorry for yourself
There is so much stigma and guilt attached to mental illness that it can be very hard to remember to care for yourself. Saying things like this only adds to the problem and makes people feel worse. If you wouldn’t say it to someone with cancer, don’t say it to me. Besides, even the best of us feel self pity from time to time.
Try instead: literally anything else. If you’re trying to remind someone of their strength, play up their achievements rather than putting them down.
8. You need to exercise more
This is related to ‘have you tried chamomile tea?’ and ‘meditation does wonders’. Believe it or not unsolicited advice is not very helpful, and chances are I’ve tried those things already. It’s hard to exercise when you can’t get out ofbed and gives us yet another thing to feel guilty about not doing.
Try instead: “Has your treating team given you any advice on what to do in this situation? Do you have a safety plan?” This can help remind the person of any strategies that are already in place. It can be hard to remember sometimes when you’re in that state of mind, so give them a nudge in the right direction.
9. This is really difficult for me
This is difficult for you? You’re not the one with a life threatening illness that robs you of joy, so please take a seat. While caring for someone close to you can take its toll and you need to take time for yourself, telling them they’re a burden is no way to show your love and support. Mentally distressed people know we’re a drag. It’s one of the only things we think about, along with the sweet release of death and television. You need other people to talk to about this. Don’t pull focus- this isn’t about you right now.
Try instead: shutting the hell up.
10. You brought this on yourself
I have a medical condition, but luckily it’s treatable, which is more than I can say for being a douchebag. I know it can seem like sometimes people do things that are counterproductive or unhelpful, like they don’t want to get better. But recovery is a complex process, and guess what? Mentally ill people don’t deserve your crap.
Try instead: going far far away from me.