The Words We Speak (Part 2) — Mental Health Post #26

Hello, hello Friends 🙂 Yesterday I rewrote that awful “addiction recovery” commercial (check out that post here. Link opens in new window), but today I wanted to help rewrite some everyday situations.

Here are a few things not to say about (and DO NOT say these things directly TO) someone with a mental illness, and some things you could say and/or do instead.

  • “You’re crazy.” // Straight up, do not say this, even if you’re joking. There’s a high chance that the affected person probably already feels this way about themselves, and this does not help. I would implore you to always remember the three gates your words should pass through before you speak: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? (Arabian proverb)
  • “I have exams, I’m gonna kill myself.” // Nope, nope, nope. Suicide is not something to joke about. I know school is stressful, and if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please talk to someone you trust (or seek the help of a professional) but do not casually toss suicide around like a joke. People’s lives are at stake here. This same thought applies to every other circumstance where people are tempted to use suicide inappropriately. “I have to go to work today, I’m going to kill myself.”, “I got egg in my hair, I’m gonna blow my brains out.” (this is an actual phrase that came out of someone’s mouth a few years ago and it still bothers me to this day!), anything along those lines is wrong. What you should say instead is, “Exams stress me out.”, “I don’t want to go to work today.”, focus on stating your problem without trivializing suicide. You may think it’s harmless, but the more people that casually say “I’m going to kill myself” are lessening the chances for people who are serious about getting the help they need. 

Imagine for a second that we’re having a conversation and I say to you, “Lately I’ve been feeling like killing myself.”
You say, “Oh, haha, me too.” Because you’re so desensitized to the phrase by now, and I’m hurt because you didn’t take me seriously enough to help me, and I’m too ashamed to talk to anyone else, and ultimately I choose to take my life.

It’s like all of the other people in the neighbourhood cried “wolf” so many times, you don’t believe me anymore even though I’ve never cried wolf before, and I’m the one who gets eaten.

  • *When someone does something in a certain order, or gets irritated by messy surroundings* “They’re so OCD!” // While doing things in a certain order and/or being excessively neat and tidy CAN be a symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it can also be a symptom of being quirky. It can also be a habit, or a number of other things. It’s never okay to use “OCD” or any other form of mental illness as an insult or a negative thing, and if you’re not a doctor you have no right to diagnose someone else.OCD is not a compliment or a fashion statement, either. Far too often these days I see “Obsessive concert disorder” or “obsessive coffee disorder” or any other number of things that aren’t cool. I don’t have OCD, but I can only imagine how hard it would be to live with WITHOUT someone pretending to have it to be “cute”. People don’t wear trendy t-shirts that say, “I have cancer”, and I’m fairly certain you would never catch anybody with “congestive heart failure” in their Twitter bio unless they ACTUALLY HAVE IT, so why does it become okay to talk about mental illness like it’s a cute fashion trend? Nothing about it is cute or fun.
  • “I’m so depressed.” // I’m basically repeating my OCD point here. Depression is not cute or trendy in any way, it’s horrible. Just because you listen to sad music and you occasionally feel blue does not mean you have depression. If your significant other broke up with you or your favourite grandparent just died and you’re upset, this does not (generally) qualify as depression, it’s plain old sadness. Depression is often a deep, dark feeling, and it usually occurs for longer periods of time than just a few days. A lot of people feel a physical heaviness and they can’t get out of bed (I’ve never experienced the latter, but it is common among people with depression), it can be a feeling of despair. It can also come in the form of numbness, and you just feel nothing at all. It’s a lot more complicated than, “I’m sad.”
  • “I missed that One Direction concert, I have PTSD.” // Or anything similar to that. This is the same as the suicide point above. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not something to make light of.
  •  “Just be happy/stop being so negative all the time.” // This can be an extremely harmful thing to say to someone. I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating this is as someone who deals with depression. It’s not that simple! This is like telling a newborn baby, “You have legs, so get up and walk.” Or telling a blind person to just open their eyes and see, it doesn’t work that way. Yes, to some degree we are “in charge” of our thoughts and we should make efforts to be more positive, but you have to trust that we are already doing our best to do that without you griping at us. Telling someone to try harder when they’re already trying their hardest is incredibly frustrating, and I know in my own experiences when people have said this to me I have wanted to stop trying altogether because apparently nobody can see my effort anyway, and I don’t have the energy to try any harder.
  •  “Stop freaking out/chill out.” // Instead of getting annoyed with someone who has anxiety, try suggesting other options. For instance, I get anxious about ordering food or buying groceries by myself, so if somebody offers to come with me I greatly appreciate it. If you’re not sure what you can offer to do that would help, ask them! And if you offer to do something for them and they say “no”, consider asking them what you CAN do for them instead. Maybe you won’t be able to help, but asking if you can help is much more helpful than telling them to just stop freaking out. Another cool thing you could do is remind the person of coping mechanisms, like my best friend taught me the “five senses method” for dealing with anxiety (You look around you and find one thing you can see, one thing you can hear, one thing you can smell, one thing you can touch, one thing you can taste, and then you go back around and do the same thing five times, and usually I only get to the third set before I start feeling better) and in the past when I’ve been anxious, she’s walked me through that process through texts.
  • “She changes her mind a lot, she’s so bipolar!” // Changing your mind often does not make you bipolar, and as I’ve said again and again in this post, serious mental illnesses are not insults! If you feel the need to say anything at all, you could say “She changes her mind a lot.” But return to point one, where I asked you to consider the three gates. True, Kind, Necessary. Comments like these would never pass through any of those gates.

These are just a few examples, and I’m sure if I spent more time on this I could think of a hundred negative things I’ve heard when referring to mental illness, but my advice is basically the same all across the board: think before you speak.

1. True, 2. Kind, 3. Necessary. I might even add “Helpful” as another mouth gate to pass your words through before you put them out there: is what you’re going to say helpful or comforting? Or are you only making them feel worse?

All of this is applicable in everyday, “real world” situations as well as the Internet. You can’t say whatever you want just because you’re behind a screen.

Think about this logically for a second: you are a real person, talking to another real person. The distance between you does not matter! The things you say and do online can and do impact real human beings. “Go kill yourself” is never an okay response. It’s not funny, and people do take that kind of thing seriously, and it can be especially harmful if that person is already contemplating suicide. You don’t know what people are going through.

Use your words for good, and always remember:

  1. True, 2. kind, 3. necessary, 4. helpful.



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