Things you should / shouldn’t say to someone who has a mental illness
It’s hard to know the right things to say around someone with a mental illness. Like supporting them, there is no ‘one size fits all’ kind of answer. It’s individual preference. But I can share with you from my perspective and hope that gives you enough of an idea.
Don’t: I still have a sense of humour. Making an offside joke about people being ‘crazy’ isn’t going to hurt my feelings (albeit we shouldn’t be calling anyone crazy to begin with). What I’m trying to say is that I am not sensitive about my illness. Oftentimes people follow up their joke with “Ooops, I’m sorry – I hope you didn’t take offence to that”. I didn’t until that statement.
Don’t: Asking me multiple times a day if I have taken my medication is annoying. Yes I have – I have set my own routine in place so that I remember to take them (ie set my alarm on my phone four times daily). If I haven’t taken them there is a reason – I might need to drive somewhere that evening or stay up for company.
Do: I get asked if I am feeling ok quite often. Lately my answer is usually no. I don’t mind this question I suppose because it shows how much my family or friends care. It is often visible in my face and body language when I am having an ‘off’ day. And, I have a lot of these days lately with the recent change in medication.
Do: Asking whether I am at risk of hurting myself or someone else is a necessary evil. It is always an awkward conversation but if you recognize the signs of a bipolar high or low – ask. It’s for our own safety. And if the answer is yes, get us to the local hospital’s Crisis Intervention Team. Sometimes the answer is no, but you may still consider getting us to the hospital. I for one am excellent at lying to avoid the hospital visit.
Other Do’s and Don’ts include:
- I’m always here for you
- Can I offer you a hug?
- I can’t fathom what you are going through
- There is always someone worse off then you
- Don’t feel sorry for yourself
- I know how you are feeling
Overall, use your judgement. We just want to feel like normal people even though sometimes those awkward conversations have to come up (and then we don’t feel so normal). I personally don’t want to feel babied. And I don’t expect people to tip toe around any conversation. I have a mental illness and to me, it is what it is. So let’s not make it the purple elephant in the room.