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The Dos and Dont’s of Talking to Someone with a Mental Health Disorder

Smiling guy receiving support from friend. There are many moments in life when we need to carefully consider our words (and the feelings) of others. Talking to someone struggling with a mental health disorder is one such moment. For many people living with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and other forms of mental illness, they often feel insecure about their capabilities, ostracized by society, or judged by those around them. Unintentionally using hurtful phrases, or asking intrusive questions, can hurt someone already dealing with painful emotions. If a loved one in your life is working to overcome mental illness, familiarize yourself with the following dos and do nots of talking to them with courtesy and compassion.

When Talking to Someone with a Mental Health Disorder, Do Say:

  • “How are you feeling?” Someone who doesn’t know how to ask for help may need someone who genuinely wants to help them break down the walls they have built to enable them to begin the healing process. If you know a loved one has a mental illness, giving them a safe space to express their feelings can keep them from feeling isolated.
  • “I’m listening.” Often, someone who has a mental illness needs to be heard more than anything else. Offer to listen to their feelings, worries, and doubts and be a non-judgmental ear, even if you cannot empathize with their feelings. You don’t need to provide any answers. By just being available to allow someone to express their emotions, you can have a positive impact on their feelings.
  • “Let me help you.” Often people who need help recovering from a mental illness do not know where to find a professional resource or inpatient care facility. By offering to help them through that process—and so that they aren’t alone when admitting they need help—you can be the motivating factor they need to begin the road to recovery.

When Talking to Someone with a Mental Health Disorder, Do Not Say:

  • “Stop acting so crazy!” Even if said jokingly, the word “crazy” could be a sensitive word to someone feeling that their mental health condition places them into the category of the clinically insane. Rather than reacting to their behavior by defining their actions as “crazy,” “wacky,” or “nonsensical,” help them to see a situation from a more positive perspective.
  • “Just don’t let it bother you.” Someone suffering from depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder is plagued by feelings that may not be founded in reality, but that produce emotions that they feel are extremely real. They cannot simply talk themselves out of irrational fears, or stop obsessing over their appearance. The cause of such beliefs is far too deeply rooted in their minds and requires the help of a professional caregiver to unravel.
  • “I just wanted to die!” An expression often used when someone is describing a moment of embarrassment or irritation, when said in front of someone who self-harms or has thoughts of suicide, the idea of wanting to die is a reminder of a real and dangerous thought. The phrase could be similarly painful for those suffering from depression related to the loss of a friend or family member. Be respectful to those experiencing grief or depression, and stay away from expressions or phrases that take the idea of death lightly.

Remember that your role is to be a support system for your loved one suffering from a mental illness. It is not to provide a cure or guide them through recovery. Leave such processes to professional recovery experts. If your loved one needs a high level of care, find a treatment center or professional nearby today. And remember loved ones of those going through a difficult time may need support too. Call Horizon at 716-831-1800 to talk to a patient support specialist. All calls are confidential.