Comments on
9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental IllnessJulie Fast’s friend went to the hospital for a terrible colitis attack. “It was so serious they sent her straight to the ER.” After reviewing her medical records and seeing that her friend was taking an antidepressant, the intake nurse said, “Maybe this is all in your head.”

When it comes to mental illness, people say the darnedest things. As illustrated above, even medical staff can make incredibly insensitive and downright despicable remarks.

Others think teasing is okay.

Fast, a coach who works with partners and families of people with bipolar disorder, has heard stories of people getting teased at work. One client’s son works at the vegetable department of a grocery store. He has obsessive-compulsive disorder and poor social skills. When his symptoms flare up, his coworkers will ask questions like, “Why do the labels have to be so perfect? Why do they have to be in line like that?” They’ve also teased him about being in a psychiatric facility.

But most people — hopefully — know that being an outright jerk to someone about their mental illness isn’t just inappropriate and ignorant. It’s cruel.

99 Comments to
9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness

Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines. The comments below begin with the oldest comments first. Click on the last comments page to jump to the most recent comments.

  1. My fav is “just get over it”.

    • yes, I know…

    • I suffer severe depression anxiety and panic attacks, my GP told me ,in his honest opinion, he doesn’t think anyone can help me. Im vunerable , I cry most of the time but for good reason, do u really think my GP was right to tell me this??

      • I am so sorry that you are in such pain. No way should that doctor have told you that! You need to see a qualified psychiatrist, not a GP. Depression and anxiety are treatable conditions. I will share that at one time the doctors treated me like I was a hopeless case. They never said that to my face, but it was their general demeaner. They were shccked when I recovered and got a job as a peer mentor at a local mental health center. There is hope, but you have to get the right treatment. Ditch this “doctor”, he doesn’t what the hell he is talking about!

      • Hi Ang – Your GP’s comment was, without any doubt, wrong. Everything is open to change and improvement, even the darkest situations. Also, the fact he said that wasn’t only scientifically wrong, it was unethical. Why would he say something that wouldn’t help (who knows). Anyway, I have undergone treatment for severe panic attacks that helped get them well under control. I can’t speak as much for depression, but I believe a specialist such as a psychiatrist or therapist is more qualified to address depression than a GP.

        By the way, I’m a graduate student in biochemistry, and have been a teaching assistant to many students that eventually entered med school. Doctors are flawed like any other person. Although their opinions do carry more weight than an average person, they are not written in stone! I sincerely hope things go better for you, and that you can find someone helpful. :)

      • Perhaps you should print a copy of the Hippocrates Oath for him. As far as I understand all doctors have to take it and number one is: ‘first do no harm’.

        After that I would burn down his office:)

      • Change doctors. That’s a horrible response! You deserve much better, and you will find the right help. A psychiatrist and therapist can help more than a GP, better qualified.

      • Your *GP* sounds like a tool. You went to him for help, and he said that!? Don’t worry though, just don’t let it get you down keep trying you will get something in return.

      • I understand, my dear. Find another doctor (and don’t tell the next one about this one so he/she can be more objective, I hope). I have had more friends or people I know outside of my famiy empathize than most members of my famiy. Find whatever and whomever it takes to make you know that you are entitled to your feelings. I think that while these “disorders” may have their place, in the end, labeling people is just a way of saying we don’t conform to the norm and I don’t hold with society’s “norms” all of the time with regard to absolute conformity. That is boring and it breeds harm to those who can be differnt and who will most likely be the ones to make our collective lives better.

        I still suffer, 34 years later, at times from family members telling me, about the death of my first baby girl to “get over it, she has been dead for two weeks” which is verbatim, it stuck with me that much. It came from my sister and my husband when I did not want to participate in a silly family event with them. I needed time because an elderly family member passed two days afer my daughter died. She got put on the back burner because she was (Full term) a newborn. A few years later, when I was expecting my youngest daugher, we had to relocate for my health and two specialists told us I and the baby could die if we did not. That made most of the family (my dad was gone, my mom and husband’s sister were supportive, that was it). I and my doctors were stupid in their eyes, it didn’t fit in to let the scapegoat, which I had become (and I admit to allowing it) was unforgivable. I have gone on to be the vicitm with those who see me coming with always wanting acceptance. Honey, the only acceptance any of us should have first and foremost is our own!

        It has been part of an underlying pattern of disrespect for me whether intentional or not from in-laws and even my own sister for decades. My acting out once I began to find my own voice and then went to the other extreme (quiet to enraged) caused them all to diagnose me, no one having qualifications, with Borderline Personality Disorder although I did not meet all but one symptom (the anger thing). If anything, I have tried to become more independent, get away from all of them, and had turned my strong empathy for others to giving to the wrong people more than the right people. My late mother in law and her amateur pop psychology has ruined my relationship with my own daughters, now adults although the majority of their childhood was great and we had a wonderful relationship until recently when the younger one, who demands that I be punished over and over if I cannot accept her granny’s diagnosis rather than that of qualified therapiss. We are now estranged. It hs been lke living the death of another daughter but now, I realize she is an adult and she must find her own way. Today, I finally feel free and so does my husband who has stood by me, changed some of his ways so that our marriage is now in its 36th year. So what if I have a trait or two of BPD, that doesn’t make me a bad persona nd quite frankly, this analytical scientist thinks that anyone at any time could be called BPD. Psychology is not physics or chemistry and it definitely in it’s infancy. It has good parts but it has bad parts that human seem to accept, in this society, as great for keeping some in thier places. Do what you need to do to be better. Find like minded people and a doctor worth his or her salt. Best wishes and God’s peace

      • When your GP said that he didn’t think anyone could help you, what he really MEANT was, “*I* can’t help you…and it scares me.”

        Never think doctors are immune to projection and having blind spots–sometimes the cruelest things are said by experts (who know so much that they haven’t felt helpless in a VERY long time) who suddenly run into something they’re not trained/prepared for.

        So there’s no need for you to take his remark even a little bit seriously…it was just a reflection of HIS issues, not yours. Go see someone who has the knowledge to handle your situation (or who has the flexibility to realize they don’t know everything yet and do something radical like, oh, RESEARCH what they don’t know).

    • getting over it is a statement made by people who talk but never took the walk. It’s those very people who, in my opinion, GOD should give a test run of what those of us have to endure walking the talk

  2. I read this article with keen interest as my ex-girlfriend appears to be suffering an undiagnosed SMI. I’m not qualified to guess but I suspect bi-polar. She hallucinates, suffers delusions, has manic bursts of energy where she stays up all night, followed by crashes into depression. And explosions of anger. Her family seems unwilling to help her. I remain friends with her but it is tough because her behavior is so extreme sometimes.

    I read this because I’m interested in the 9 things NOT to say, but also was hoping for the best things to say in order to get her into treatment.

    The three things you list are nice, though offering to talk requires a high level of commitment. It’s what I’ve offered and have had weeks where I’m on the phone with her ever day trying to help her through a panic attack. As horrifying as it is for her, it’s now also heart-wrenching and draining for me.

    I would love to see some advice to get someone to seek treatment if they are clearly suffering from serious issues but don’t believe there is anything that needs to involve a doctor.

    • I think the family should get involved. There must be some way for this to happen. Good luck.

      • Getting family involved is a great idea for people with stable families who are mentally healthy.

        Unfortunately along with the component of heredity in mental illness growing up with an unstable family is a nitemare.

        It is so hard to find support, the very thing you need…not having it makes it so much worse, and as the article notes there are far too many people saying ‘the wrong things’.

    • The facts are not pretty.In Bipolar disorder, the brain is changed from the first episode. Do not hesitate to get your friend to a good doctor,ASAP. Best wishes……

    • Dear SomeGuy,
      My daughter has Bi-Polar Disorder and is now going thru a manic episode. I am scared for her.
      I am on here trying to get some answers and how to help her.
      So, Yes the families do need to be involved!!!

  3. One comment that really hurt was “I think you’re going to stay on disability until it runs out and milk it for all it’s worth.” The real sting was that it was said by a friend who also struggles with major depression.

    • A friend displacing her own guilt for something, or a friend who has such a low sense of self worth she desperately needs to lower yours in order to feel superior?

  4. You left out my all-time favorite: “Are you off your meds?”

    • I have to agree with you there Tracy. I was on the phone with my mother one day and she did something that made me angry with her. I wasn’t yelling or saying anything mean, but I had a good reason for being angry, and I let her know it. Her response to me was “are you off your meds?”. That was just so insulting and I had to get off the phone with her right away.

    • I hear this often. Something else I hear “according to google….” I often wonder why MY experience with MY diagnoses is seldom accepted as truth.

    • LOL!!!! I know that one too well!

  5. My personal favourite is – ‘Pull yourself together’

  6. Even this piece wanders into the realm of being insulting. Let’s just ignore the real problem of #7. You are making the assumption that you are speaking to a person of faith when you tell a person to pray about it. If they are not, you’ve just told them that the reason they aren’t getting better is because they don’t believe.

    Anybody that tells me to pray about something has just told me they are a person that I cannot trust and to never confide anything in them again.

    • My aunt did that to my mother who eventually committed suicide. Since I’m a lesbian, my MI is linked to that by the extended family. I have no family. Except for 3 close friends, my social circle is comprised of peers.

  7. Aside from being insensitive, depending on the environment, these comments and assumptions may also be illegal under the Americans with Disabilities Act. People with disabilities are protected from discrimination and a hostile work environment.

    • While it may be illegal, that doesn’t mean it is punishable. I have been asked about a prior suicide attempt at a job interview, had rescue personnel call people to tell them I made a suicide attempt while I was in the ambulance on my way to the hospital, etc. – I could give at least a half dozen other personal examples. I attempted to file a complaint with the EEOC RE:the question asked at the interview and was told that I had no recourse because I wasn’t an employee at that point. I have also contacted several attorneys and could find no one that would take my case. I feel like I have 2 choices: one, stop trying or two, put up with the abuse. sigh.

  8. This was a good article and hope that I can encourage my boyfriend to read the book. He doesn’t understand that saying “these sorts of things are so easily (and overly) diagnosed–in America. He is British, and the “stiff upper lip” in him thinks anything can be overcome just by “walking it off”.

    Very frustrating.

  9. My daughter’s friend has now attempted suicide twice. She is 17. She is the hospital at the moment where the MSW said to her “If you really wanted to commit suicide you would have done it.” Are they challenging her to be more accurate with her planning next time? She also has an eating disorder – the clinic who usually weigh her were unable to do it this one particular time. She always stands on the scale with her back – they don’t tell her what her weight is. This particular nurse did tell her and when my daughter’s friend told her the rules, the nurse’s reply was “oops, I guess I let the cat out of the bag.”
    What kind of person – who works on a mental health unit says this kind of stuff? It is completely unacceptable.

    • I am so sorry this happened to your daughter. That is pretty sick and unprofessional,but a lot of people think that an unsuccessful suicide attampt means that the person just wants attention. I would seriously think of filing a complaint against this nurse. The truth is that even a half-hearted attempt needs to be taken seriously. The reason why is that person may be trying to work up the courage to actually do it. It is not true that people who make suicide attempts are not afraid of dying. For me the urge to die was equal to my survival instincts. Suicidal people do not lose the involuntary fear of dying.

      • Comment I received from weekend staff MD, dimwitted, unprofessional yet tickled me, mostly being the lockdown ward, staff & fellow compadres were the stuff of nightmares.

        Upon viewing my chart, all I took & the alcohol I used to wash it down, he shook his head.

        “Wow, you should be dead! You must have the liver & constitution of an ox.”

        Silver lining? Some d-baggery is slightly complimentary in an awkward, inappropriate manner.

  10. One hundred years ago, Sigmund Freud arrived in the United States on his first and only visit. As the George Washington pulled into New York Harbor, he supposedly remarked to Carl Jung, who accompanied him, “They don’t realize that we are bringing them the plague.” His more vociferous contemporary critics would probably agree.

    http://chronicle.com/article/Freuds-Visit-to-Clark-U/48424/

  11. I have personally had a GP tell me that things were “all in my head” after he saw I was bipolar on my charts. I have also been treated differently at my job by those who know to the point that I go home upset and feeling ashamed of my issues which makes work harder. At my second job they make fun of people with mental issues not knowing I suffer from bipolar and that hurts and discourages me too. I also know that sometimes I am not sensitive to my husbands PTSD because I am agitated or triggered plus I have been diagnosed for nearly 13 years now and my husband was just diagnosed about 2 years ago so I’m a bit farther with my coping skills and just time knowing about how people are and how to handle things. It was a good reminder for me to be more sensitive and understanding with him. Very good article and I would be very interested in reading more!

  12. The best response I ever got when I told a friend I’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder was “Oh is that because it’s really fashionable these days?”

  13. Hate this one, especially when I’m trying to curb my manic, nervous side. “I want what SHE’S on!” Ugh. Wish I could magically hand it over to you. Here you go. Enjoy!

  14. Nice ones! LOL I’ve also heard the ‘fashionable to be bipolar’ line recently. Damn, and I was always rather anti-fashion. I prefer style. I have a few to add ;) ….

    “Have you taken your meds today?”

    “Happiness is a choice”

    “GO TAKE SOME F****** LAMICTAL!” (I get this a LOT from my closest friends)

    and my all time favorite…

    out of the mouth of a baby boomer, my daddy (daddy, you bastard, I’m through):

    “Man, you sound like you just met Ché Guevara and you saw the light! .” …he lives 3000 miles away, thankfully, and I am “through” with him.

    I wrote a little goodbye statement on my own online mental health magazine, it applies to many a baby boomer….

    Cheers all,
    Jen/scars

  15. What most people with mental illnesses don’t try because it is not popular in western civilization is meditation. It takes a lot of practice and determination to perform proper meditation, but its benefits are worth it.

    • This has been suggested to me, numerous times. Trying to meditate reinforces the idea that my brain is terminally flawed because I can’t seem to reach the place of observer unless I’m dissociated and/or triggering dissociative states and anxiety/fear. Suggesting meditation, IMO, is the same as suggesting prayer

      • No, its not like prayer, because a) prayer depends on belief in the supernatural b) there’s not that much (or any?) scientific data on the benefits of prayer.

        On the other hand, it does fit into the category of giving advice which can be annoying because it suggests that you have better ideas than the affected person. Or, as in the comment above, that the affected person does not have the discipline or perseverance or whatever.

        If suggested in a tactful manner I think it could be helpful but like other things that have been shown to be helpful – exercise, medicine, diet, etc, there are going to be cases where meditation just does not help, or the person, due to the condition cannot do it anyway.

        Personally I’v gone through phases where my concentration is so bad I can hardly remember how meditation was ever possible, and also phases where it is really helpful in anchoring me.

  16. I have Borderline personality disorder and the one I often hear is “that’s so Borderline!” and that has also been said by professionals. Also has the words “you are being manipulative and you’re attention seeking”…All of these words typically associated to people diagnosed with BPD. When are so called professionals going to stop treated people as their given labels and listen and help/support them with the real difficulties they are experiencing instead of them feeling they are the ones being attacked in some way. I think people who look at certain feelings/behaviours that one presents as being about something being done to them then they have more difficulties that the person seeking support. Also maybe looking at what lies beneath thoughts/feelings/behaviours is what would be helpful rather then how they present.

  17. The best thing someone can do for me when I tell them I have bipolar disorder and PTSD and can’t work at a full-time job and/or have to sit with my back against the wall is to say, “I’m honored that you trust me enough to talk with me about it.” Maybe, how are you affected by that. The worst thing people say to me when they see me with my service dog is, Where do I get one of those vests, I want to take my dog everywhere too. Or, “you’re so lucky.” For the 5 people who said some variation of that yesterday, although I don’t wish this on any of them, I would like for them to experience the awful panic attack I had yesterday that knocked me to the floor.

  18. Reading all these comments, and the article, having a son who suffers from ADHD and severe anxiety, being someone who never felt anxious to someone who feels anxiety a lot I have to say that some of the things that “shouldn’t” be said maybe should be? I know for sure that my son feels a lot better (he tells me) when I make positive suggestions and tell him that he CAN help himself. I am really shocked at a lot of the responses here – they give the impression that NO-ONE can say the right thing, that everything that everyone says that implies the owner of depression/anxiety/mental illness can take responsibility/does possess the ability to help themselves is wrong!!!! Surely positivity is the way forward, not victim-like states. We are all the owners of our own feelings and attitudes. We have all been to hell, and we have all suffered sorrow and pain, we are all struggling in an immensely difficult world. But we are also all lucky to have what we have, and to have people around us who are at least willing to try and say the “right thing” – even if (in our own little “me” minds) we do not like what we hear.

    • Seriously Ashley, for many people the mental health issues are a chemical imbalance that has NOTHING to do with “choosing” to be happy! The one that always gets me are the people that ask if I’ve taken my “happy” pill!!!

    • Ashley, you just said one of the offending comments…”in our own little me minds”. That is a rather judgmental statement to the people who have posted on here. We are speaking of a particular area of our lives where I for one do take peesonal responaibility for sharing my thoughts on language that is unhelpful to recovery. This is only part of my life and does not consume “me”. I spend a lot of my time supporting people who nees validation for their experiences with a way to promoting them finding their own solutions. Validating peoples emotions n not negating them gives them the ownership over them. They can thwn acknowledge the difficulty and then try to change it. Yes we all experience hardship and as you say you do not experience anxiety so although your aon twlls u it helps when you tell him he can do it….I wonder if it would be helpful to him to ask him if you do/say anything that doesn’t help. Both are as important as each other and I question the effectiveness of one without the other. Just a thought.

    • Wow, I’m so glad there is someone who has no experience of extreme anxiety to tell everyone the truth about it…

      In fact I feel lucky that there are people who are prepared to mouth these hard truths for us lazy and irresponsible beings…

    • Ashley, there is a big difference to teaching yourself to be positive and not be a victim vs. being made to feel like worthless trash by “happy puppy rainbow” comments. “If you just think of happy puppy rainbows, all of your problems will magically disappear!”

      Also, as an adult who was once a child with MI issues, I can tell you that kids know when they are being minimized by “positive” comments. We quickly learn how to hide what’s really going on and lie about how we feel to people who we know for a fact don’t understand, and will just try to “fix” everything with their so-called “forward moving” strategies. I have told people I feel better many times when I still felt aweful, and that includes when I told my parents I was better because I heard them arguing about the cost my child psychologist. I was twelve years old. But I had already learned earlier than that it’s better to hide things than try to communicate them to certain people.

    • I love your comment and I have experienced and continue to have (to a lesser degree) debilitating anxiety and depression. People would tell me to think positive and I would HATE them for saying it but in my darkest moments I would remember their words and it really would help me pick myself up. They believed that I could be happy even when I had completely given up on my self and that is invaluable.

    • I am with you on this, I tried telling my sister to go talk to someone that has no way of being against her, someone without biases because according to her I’m not on her side, she has no family, and I’m the one she thought would always be on her side, I am not to have relationships with people if she’s not getting along with them. I have my own “mental issues and cannot deal with hers and my own at same time. She gets in tantrums and goes off and off till it had me wipped.

  19. I was not amazed at the things people say to others suffering from any form of mental illness. What did amazed me was that while most of these had been said to me at one time or another from various sources, the most surprising source was my (ex)psychologist. From “if you get busy, you will start to feel better”, “Do you want to get better, then change your attitude”, “you have more than a lot of people, just count your blessings and you will feel better”, “stop feeling sorry for yourself!”, to the reason for my physical pain caused by multiple legit diagnosed diseases …”it starts in your head, if you stop talking about it and don’t give it space in your head, it will go away”. In other words, ‘it’s all my fault, I’m just lazy, I don’t appreciate what I’ve got, I’m on a pity trip, and it’s all in my head!
    The sad part, I submitted to this abuse and confirmation of low self-worth for over 2 1/2 years. Just what I needed ‘Validation to continue to feel this way.’
    I have not seen another psychologist since because I am still afraid it somehow all my fault, I can’t be helped and will never be better.

    • GrannySanity, this one…”it starts in your head, if you stop talking about it and don’t give it space in your head, it will go away.” was told to me by a social worker/therapist in my college days.

      I was told to put a thick rubber band on my wrist and snap it when I started ruminating. By my appointment the following week my wrist looked like uncooked hamburger. 1) I was a literal idiot back in the day, “Gee, this hurts but she said it would help!” and 2) I’d wager that might have been the last time she suggested that method to a client.

  20. I went to see my new GP yesterday for a routine update of my sick note, after having several extremely bad Depression/Anxiety days that has resulted in obvious self harm. I saw in that list three things that she said to me, even though the words differed slightly. Most of yesterday was spent in tears and panicking that I had lost the only person I could trust to help me get better.

  21. Perfect post. I also write about mental illness, and I find that education is the key. Allowing my family to read posts like these will help them adjust their way of saying things (out of love of course) that may not be good for me.

    Thanks!

  22. One I often get is “but you look ok”.

  23. People in treatment for mental illness generally don’t respond well to attempts to be “fixed” by outsiders. An empathetic ear is more likely to be viewed as supportive.

  24. Once a nurse said to my mom, regarding my first and only suicide attempt: “if she’s going to kill herself-then she’s going to kill herself-there’s nothing we can do about it!”

    • Linden, what that Nurse said to your mother was true. No one but the person who is suicidal can stop the suicide. While in care the staff can watch and ensure safety, but afterwards if a person is determined to kill themselves, it can happen. The nurse was preparing your mother that it wasn’t her fault if you were the type to pursue the suicide post care. So I don’t know why you think it is a bad statement she made.

      • Been there – it’s a horrible statement to make and it’s NOT true. Most suicidal people DON’T want to die. They just want their pain to be over. There is a lot professionals and family and friends can do to stop a person from suiciding and I don’t mean watching a person 24/7. It’s about offering support and giving the person a reason to live, not just shrugging it off as “there’s nothing we can do about it”. Any nurse who says comments like that should not be working in mental health and are a disgrace to the profession.

  25. I’ve been diagnosed as having General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for more then 3 years already. I’ve been dealing with it alone and tried avoiding my thoughts for the first year, thinking it was just something school related that made me stressed. For more then 3 years my family keeps pushing me to get over it, telling me there’s nothing wrong with me, and i’m normal. But all i feel when they say that is, “how come i’m feeling this way, if i am normal and if there’s nothing wrong me?” I know they’ve the best intentions, but there’s such a pressure on changing myself and feeling incapable of doing so. It’s difficult handling it alone and not being understood. These things that we do not want to hear, are exactly the “most said”. And a way for me to cope with my disorder, is to try to understand what they do for me and how they’re helping me on their own way/terms. They might not understand what i’m going through, but seeing support (even with painful words) makes me happy that i have people around me that care, and they give effort to help, it might not be the right way, but at least it is something. One thing my boyfriend told me this week was, “you might feel alone, but you’ve never been alone, your family loves and cares about you, and so do I and my whole family”. It was an eye opener. We see ourselves as alone, being misunderstood makes us lonely, but there’s always someone who cares, even when we don’t know it.

  26. I don’t agree with everything on this blog. In the past I had problems dealing with depression, a panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder. It is my belief everyone is different. Yes, you cannot cover up a problem by being busy, but a lot of time especially when it comes to depression for most people staying inside the house alone is the worse thing for you. For me that was like going down a spiral of despair. I think that people just need to be aware who you are talking to and listen. Some do need to connect spiritually whereas others need to find something they are passionate about. There are other things out there besides conventional therapies that can help and a lot of the time it deals with combinations. It all depends on the person. I do agree that one of the worse things that was said to me especially when growing up is “get over it.”

  27. Thank you for the article. I feel sometimes like people just expect that we can “snap out of it” because it is not something tangible like cancer or stroke. I try to put on a brave face when I am around others because allot of my family/friends don’t think mental health issues are a real disability. Then when they see me and I am “ok” they figure that I am faking when I am down. It seems others are critical whether we are showing our struggles or painting on a brave face. I hope as the anti stigma campaigns and mental health awareness programs go forward people will recognize that sometimes not saying anything but just being there is the right thing to do.

  28. So the very large number of us who have a mental issue of one sort or another which makes it hard or impossible to always say the right thing should not talk to others also suffering alone? We can say “you can always talk to me” but may not really mean it?
    Sounds like all of us who are managing most of the time will just withdraw further and even the supposedly healthy among us will talk meaninglessly. That will certainly help civilization.

  29. When faced with having to do jury duty, I was informed that I needed a note from my doctor about my illness. When I asked for the note, she told me it was my civil duty, just go and get it over with. I cried all the way out of the office and all the home. Needless to say, I have a new doctor. :(

  30. I get very upset by any of these but the ones I find hardest to deal with are the ones that come from certain New Age mind sets, where they believe firmly you can change your world by thinking the right way.
    I also find it hard when people who have not suffered with a mental illness tell those who have that they just need to… XXXX (fill in the blanks) and they’ll be fine.
    Good article.

  31. These are all the things I heard my former in laws say to their brother for years since he had brain surgery. He committed suicide on March 27, 2013. He suffered mental illness for years as a result of a Sub-Dural Hematoma.

  32. Really interesting post. It is walking on egg shells dealing with the emotionally inbalanced. Everything can be taken the wrong way. I feel guilty and awful when people treat me different because I’m anxious.

  33. I’m an adult child living with my father who has paranoid delusions (he thinks the neighbors are spying on him in order to persecute/punish him for something he did in the past and that my mother and I could also be at risk from them, that they’ve bugged the house and car and whenever they do home improvement projects, play loud music or otherwise bang on the wall that they’re watching him).

    In the beginning, I did and said EVERYTHING wrong, absolutely everything, to the point where I now believe that because of my attitude and ignorance I made things worse. Because my mother and I have attempted to get help for him, he had diabetes/high blood-sugar and is the kind of man who only goes to the doctor when he’s desperate or Baker Acted, he believes, especially since I told him outright when I was upset that I was going to tell the doctor or whoever the truth about his behaviors when I could, that we’re going to forcefully put him away in some insane asylum or something.

    Every time we leave the house, we now have to reassure him “no worries, no nothings” because we have later learned that since he won’t accept that anything is wrong with him and won’t willingly get help that nothing can be done. He won’t even go and just talk to someone. Probably because of how we reacted.

    He’s gotten better, especially since his sugars are regulated, but I see signs that he’s still afraid of us and everyone else.

    After realizing what a cruel bitch I was being towards him (I was sarcastic, I took my feelings out on him, etc.) I went out of my way to prove myself to him; I let him supervise my activities online for a while (obviously he’s not looking now), I brought home brochures from the stores I went to as proof I was there, I mentally (and sometimes physically) punished myself in the privacy of my room whenever I started being mean.
    (It’s not like he ever set any limits, even when I was a little kid he just let me do what I want and so I feel responsible for how selfish I was then as well! He liked my spirit, he always said. He wanted me to be honest and to never lose my passionate nature. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming him! He’s the victim in all this, not me!)

    Currently, he seems a lot better, but I still can’t help but see the man who disabled the smoke alarm because he thought there might be a listening device in there, the man who threatened to commit suicide with a bottle of old pills, the man who yelled at my mom that it was a male trait to hoard rotting food that he thought of as precious treasures (the phrase “male trait” still sets me on edge a bit), whenever he does something suspect that for someone else might be completely innocent.
    (For example, I asked him to write something on a shopping list to help me out when I was cooking and he wanted to imitate my handwriting because it was fun and some time later he wanted a fancy address label on his card to his brother and he hardly ever writes his return address on things which has lead me to believe that he doesn’t want to be traced by his handwriting. Another example is that he insists on wearing a mask for cosplays so I conclude that he is afraid of being seen out in public as he hardly ever goes out anymore and even then he hates big crowds.)
    I want my father back, the one that used to take me shopping and going to fun places late at night and used to not shake when he went out to eat with me, the one who always tried new things and loved to go to the beach. However, I have read online that paranoid delusions are a fixed thing, it’s not ever going to go away so there is no hope for any of us. He’s not coming back, this is it, this is our lives now and it’s not going to change but to get better/worse.

    What I want to know is how to make up for the abuse I put him though, for how much of a monster I always was and probably still am, without completely losing myself. I think that maybe if I can regain a bit of what we lost because of me that perhaps he’ll be able to choose things for himself without fear that he is doing the wrong thing again and give him his courage back, both things I callously stole from him in my cruelty.
    How can I do this?

  34. When I read this, like many other articles, I began to cry because I know there are some people out there who do understand what it’s like but there’s so many who don’t and need to learn these things. I’ve heard pretty much every one of the 9 on this list repeatedly including from my own family.

    I’ve spent my entire life with depression and mood swings that I kept silent about for most of and they’ve only gotten worse and more rapid as I’ve gotten older. I’ve never been officially diagnosed for anything and I was treated with meds very briefly but could not afford to keep doing such, not that they were working for me so far. Hospital suspected I’m bipolar but not entirely sure and it kinda adds extra insult to injury not knowing EXACTLY why I am the way I am.

    My mood can switch in the blink of an eye and sometimes I’m carefree (rarely) and then the next moment I’m bitter and angry at everyone then I’m just sad or sometimes I feel like a zombie just going through the motions, watching myself from outside my body.

    It breaks my heart to know anyone has to go through what I go through and I hope someday in my lifetime, society learns to treat those with mental illness with the kindness and respect they deserve rather than insulting what they do not understand or suggesting solutions that are not practical for us then becoming angry that we do nothing to improve ourselves.

    I’m 30 years old living with relatives still with no real work history to speak of and barely having the energy to get out of bed most days and I have to constantly worry “What am I going to do with my life?” and “What must everyone think of me?”. I’ve been called lazy and a scam artist by my own family members that I trusted to be there for me but they’ve made me feel so misunderstood and unloved as a result.

    I sincerely hope that this and other articles become widespread and that people will get a better understanding of what it’s like for us.

  35. I have found a response to the insensitive: If you were diabetic, would you be offended if someone told you to ‘just get over it’?

    People are so afraid of mental illness that they don’t remember that the brain is an organ like the pancreas or liver or skin.

    Next time someone gives you a “get over it” style of advice or comment, ask them, “do you expect diabetics to eat sugar without consequences because their organ malfunction is all in their head? Diabetics are such slackers…”

  36. This is a great article. I’ve also heard the “it’s fashionable” type of lines about bipolar. Even from other bipolar people! I have ultradian bipolar and it’s really frustrating when people with classic bipolar I or II decide to tell you that people with ultradian bipolar obviously have been misdiagnosed and have boarderline personality instead, because bipolar is “overdiagnosed,” and cycling all of the time isn’t how bipolar works. I have a very clear cut cycle, which happens to be pretty predictable, with mixed episodes and cognitive functioning imparement. I’m sorry I don’t fit into the classical bipolar box, but that doesn’t mean I’m misdiagnosed, thanks.

    Also the worst comment I received recently was I was explaining to a co-worker how my husband has sever panic attacks when we got to the store. He doesn’t work and has some undiagnosed MI and barely leaves the house. She then said she believes all MI is just an “excuse to be lazy.” I said to her, I don’t think she realized how sever panic attacks can be. She looked me right in the face and said, “Oh, I have panic attacks, and I just deal with it.”

    I wanted to slap her. Obviously people who experience actual panic attacks (I also have panic from generalized anxiety disorder,) wouldn’t say that. It made me so angry.

    Also another co-worker e-mailed me some stupid thing about how Abe Lincoln had depression but he got over it by “deciding to be happy.”

    The ignorance and cruelty of people just blows me away sometimes.

    • Some girl, I know it’s not what you want to hear, but have you considered maybe you are wrong? As a professional I can say that there really is no such thing as ultradian bipolar. It’s just a term used by people who don’t want to stigmatise clients by labelling them with borderline PD.

      You may be having mixed episodes and be bipolar I or II or you may have cyclothymia or you may have borderline PD, but “ultradian bipolar” is a myth.

  37. My question is, how do you have a relationship with someone who has been mentally ill their whole life who is so negative. My sister has been ill most of her life and is now in her fifties. She is so negative that I avoid her, which I feel terrible about but the second you speak with her she brings you right down to the bottom with her. I understand that her illness brings out her negative outlook…but how do you talk to some one who from the first sentence is negative. It is a very sad sitiuation and disease.

    • “I understand that her illness brings out her negative outlook…but how do you talk to some one who from the first sentence is negative.”

      You don’t. They have to want to change. It’s possible to be sympathetic to their situation and simultaneously recognize that you have a right to the happiness you’ve created for yourself.

  38. My mistake was telling people who are old-fashioned, meaning not enlightened and don’t get mental illness. I learned that people don’t need to know my business because many are uneducated and judgemental regarding rhis! Close and savvy people only need to know.

  39. Seems like most people commenting here have never deal with a kid that has a mental illness and lost their job to take care of your kid, going from living a good life, providing with your honest hard work to be living in a miserable welfare check.
    Mean while lets judge those who care about you because they are not good enough.

  40. Get your head out of your asses!

    Seriously, getting depressed is a natural state, it happens to everyone, it does not help being told you are depressed and it does not help telling everyone in the world that will listen that you are depressed, the world revolves around you only from your mindset, working does help, interaction with others does help, distractions do help, change your attitude, take the advice, listen to these phrases and take them to heart!

    You are no better, worse or different to everyone else and thinking you are alone is the worst way to get stuck in your depression.

    So get your head out your ass, walk out the door, go to the shop and buy something you like, go to a friends, smile at puppies, smile at children and old people, get back into society before your glands endorphine production becomes stunted and escape is more difficult…

    • Tom -

      I’m afraid your good advise will be lost on the people who need it most. Both sets of close relatives include people who have emotional issues. Any attempt to reassure them their experiences do belong to all of humanity is met with derision.

      Being part of humanity means they might have hurt people, been selfish or greedy, and it might have been within their power to change that at the time (or in the future). It means that when people have been angry or withdrawn or given up on relationships, it might have been because of their repeated self centered actions with another imperfect human just making it day by day, too.

      According to them and the therapists they pay, the only acceptable response to disruptive behaviors is “Aww, that’s too bad. Can I make you a cup of tea/buy you something/listen endlessly while everyone disrupts their lives until you feel better.”

      If you haven’t guessed by now, I’ve been one of the “normal” ones in households with people who have emotional issues. So all the thoughts above do indeed make me an uneducated, insensitive slob unfortunately. *grin*

      But due to this lack of sensitivity on my part, I’m very much aware that what articles like this do is only encourage people with emotional issues to continue their “I’m in this alone/no one could possibly understand me” worldview, which is highly self-centered. Getting better at any emotional issue means recognizing your common feelings/experiences with the person right in front of you.

      A much better article might have been “9 things imperfect people say when they are trying to be helpful, how to gracefully deal with the situation, and be grateful they care” (Too long of a title, I know. ) :) But still, much more helpful for all concerned.

      • Thanks, Amy.
        I am quite sick of being expected to deliver “Aww, that’s too bad. Can I make you a cup of tea/ buy you something/ listen endlessly while everyone disrupts their lives until you feel better,”

        especially because I have ~never~ gotten that treatment from my bipolar partner, not even in periods of extreme stability. Not when my cat died, not when my uncle committed suicide, not when my mom was hospitalized. No, each situation was all about him YET AGAIN.

        I didn’t get to fall to pieces while he held me together. It feels like I’m not permitted to succumb to panic or crisis and that I don’t get to fully feel, because of how it might affect him and his emotional balance.

        To the people who are ill: you need to but may never realize that it’s not having your rights trampled to be expected to either live within the mainstream or away from it altogether. However, loved ones’ rights ARE being trampled when the mentally ill relatives are permitted to dictate the terms of reality to everyone in their periphery, including what one can feel, when one can talk, and about what.

        Mental illness is cruel, yet it seems that most of the posters on this page feel that it’s only cruel to them that’s experiencing it.

  41. There is nothing more isolating than mental illness. And it gets worse with our endeavors to find some human touch in that loneliness..

  42. I have bipolar disorder, anxiety, Manic depression, ADD/ADHD, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Rhaynauds Phenomenon, and recently diagnosed in early 2013 with Borderline Personality Disorder. I am 25. and I have to say the worst I’ve heard yet is: “You don’t need medication, just act as if you were normal”.. Its soo incredibly hurtful.. Medication has saved me in many ways.. and without it, I struggle every day. When I had a person I USED to know, sell my meds… I stopped trusting people, I lost control of myself, my mood, my way of thinking.. and now I’m OCD.. I’m always making sure when I’m no longer using a medication I soak it in Rubbing Alcohol til its dissolved and dispose of it, so no one can abuse them.. Its really difficult also when someone comes to me asking if they can buy some of my meds from me… Its like “no, are you crazy?? I actually need these” So I’ve built a wall that my boyfriend of almost a year has almost got past. My ex-husband left me at my parents house and told me to take me back because “I’m too mental” for him. After being with him for 3 years and married 13 months.. I’m still hurt from it.. I may forgive.. but will NEVER forget.. unless i lose my memory again..

  43. The ones I hate are, “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps” and, “Happiness is a Choice”. I get angry just thinking about it!

  44. I hate the distract yourself feel like saying I have been wanting to kill myself since age 7 I am now 24 and still feel like doing it and have previously attempted I have tried countless therapy 9 different meds and nothing has worked plus sucide and self harm has got worse as I get older I called the hospital before I was gonna take a bunch of pills the lady just said watch a movie what an idiot when she goes into a coma I’ll say hey just watch a movie it’s the band aid effect people that don’t understand what we go through when we want to help ourselfs :(

  45. I can’t here these. I have no friends.

  46. I work with people and am also a person with a mental illness. What needs to be understood is having a mental illness no more defines a person than having the flu does. We are people first. I do agree that having a mental illness is no excuse for bad behavior. Someone truly having a crisis is a totally different situation than just behavior. I work with this every day and I know the difference.

    The saddest thing about the mental health system vs the medical care system is “You can’t be physically sick and mentally ill at the same time.” It makes me sick to see MDs turn their backs on patients as soon as they see a mental health diagnosis. I pray one day both systems can work together and really help patients suffering mentally and physically.

  47. The worst thing I ever heard came from a mental health worker. When I explained I felt in immediate danger of suicide, he asked what was stopping me.

  48. Has anyone ever heard of a thing that when you say your an ailment, you are actually giving yourself the ailment by confessing it. I have a close friend who believes this.

  49. I have old fashioned bipolar and you know what, I dont even thinlk about it anymore.. Its not worth giving it focus. I just live my life the best I know how. Why talk about it. It only brings about attention.. Move on people. Drugs are not the answer. And, most bipolar people dont really have the true crippling disorder that it truly is..

  50. I am at a loss. After dealing with my wives anger issues for years with anything i say taken badly, when I was just trying to say don’t yell at me or the kids and at least that part of your life will be fine. She is looking into Al Anon for her alcoholic mother and thinking the people there are saints because they are admitting they have a part in the whole thing. Which is not true if you believe their maxim didn’t cause it, can’t cure it etc. She is convinced her mother needs help and she does, but she doesn’t see her anger issues the same way. I am in a position of learning boundaries to endure so I can be with my kids, or leaving which I won’t do. I just think there needs to be better advice here. I think anyone trying to help should be thanked. I think people should muster all their strength to seriously look into the advice given because there are many things that can help much more than inaction. Remember, people would not say anything if they did not care, but it;s up to you to cure yourself. Don’t waste another day blaming, lack of anything and try to commit to learning one things new every day. It will transform your life.

Join the Conversation!

Before posting, please read our blog moderation guidelines.

Post a Comment:


(Required, will be published)

(Required, but will not be published)

(Optional)

Recent Comments
  • Upsie_Daisy: I am a middle-aged female, raised in a family of closeted gay men. I thought all nen would hate and...
  • Kat: Yes, Rhondaaa! You are so accurate with such great wise advice as I’ve experienced a very similar history....
  • James: What if someone said, “I cant get any sex”? Would they be lying to themselves?
  • Crowley: I agree, but read my note below. I’m not sure what else I could have done.
  • Crowley: My in laws were disappointed in my husband’s choice. I came from the wrong side of the tracks,...
Subscribe to Our Weekly Newsletter


Find a Therapist
Enter ZIP or postal code