What to Say to Someone Struggling with Mental Illness

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Struggling with mental illness was one of the hardest, most heartbreaking things I have ever been through. It was lonely, emotional, and scary. There was a disconnect in relationships with family and friends. Some of the things that were said to me left me stunned. How could someone say something so horrible? Looking back, they may not have known of my mental illness or understood how to respond.

“Be Happy.”

“You are overreacting.”

“Don’t worry so much.”

“How can you be sad? You have everything and anything you need.”

What is a Mental Illness?

According to The National Alliance on Mental Health, “A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood. These conditions deeply impact day-to-day living and may also affect the ability to relate to others”.

What Not to Say to Someone Struggling with Mental Illness

Be Happy

Your well-meaning encouragement to “cheer up” or “smile” may feel friendly and supportive to you, but it distorts the many feelings one may have with mental illness. What you can say: “You seem sad. How can I help?”

You only care about yourself

Implying that a person with mental illness does not care about other people may only add feelings of blame, shame, and guilt. People who experience mental illness do care about others. What you can say: “I’m here for you if you need me.”

Don’t worry so much

Having someone tell you to not worry so much when you are already giving it your best can be discouraging and may make a person with a mental illness feel their situation is hopeless. What you can say: “You seem worried. Do you want to talk about it?”

How can you be sad? You have everything and anything you need.

It’s not uncommon for people with mental illness to try very hard to “put on a good face” and hide how they really feel from others. Even though these thoughts do not reflect reality, they can become very intense and are also a characteristic of mental illness. What you can say: “Are you feeling down? Is there anything I can do?”

The Best Thing You Can Say

“I’m here for you.”

Looking back at my journey, I learned a lot. Mental illness doesn’t define me, but it did shape me. It’s tough to find helpful words during these trying times. Stay mindful that the words you use can make a big difference. If you’re not careful, your words might do more harm than good.

If you think you’ve said something hurtful in the past you can always reach out and apologize. Explain that you weren’t sure what to say or that you didn’t understand. An apology can help someone begin feeling better if your words haven’t been helpful in the past. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental illness please know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

Need Immediate Help In A Crisis?

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline| Call 800-273-TALK (8255) If you or someone you know is in crisis—whether they are considering suicide or not—please call the toll-free Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline connects you with a crisis center in the Lifeline network closest to your location. Your call will be answered by a trained crisis worker who will listen empathetically and without judgment. The crisis worker will work to ensure that you feel safe and help identify options and information about mental health services in your area. Your call is confidential and free.

Crisis Text Line| Text NAMI to 741-741 Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

National Domestic Violence Hotline| Call 800-799-SAFE (7233) Trained expert advocates are available 24/7 to provide confidential support to anyone experiencing domestic violence or seeking resources and information. Help is available in Spanish and other languages.

National Sexual Assault Hotline| Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) Connect with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area that offers access to a range of free services. Crisis chat support is available at Online Hotline. Free help, 24/7.

I am not a mental health professional, if you or someone you know is struggling with mental health it is best to consult a doctor first. If you believe you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, please call 911.

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