Breaking Expectations: What not to say to someone with a mental illness

Breaking Expectations: What not to say to someone with a mental illness

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Shelby Bodine

“Breaking Expectations” is staff writer Shelby Bodine’s firsthand experience with living with mental
illness.

As long as the science of psychology has existed, there have been skeptics.

To some degree, I can understand where they’re coming from. Unlike any other disease, mental illness is an invisible disease. There lacks the sort of physical evidence of existence that we, as scientists, thrive on using. This lack of evidence leads to a lot of skepticism from those who have never personally experienced mental illness.

When I tell others that I have bipolar or ADHD or anxiety, I tend to do so in a way that pokes fun at myself for the sole purpose of them not being able to.

However, there have been multiple times that I’ve shared that very personal bit of information and was met with some closed-minded critics.

I feel like I need to share a few of the questions, criticisms, and opinions I’ve been asked/told when opening up about having a mental illness in hopes that a mutual understanding will be reached in terms of what is OK to say and what is  not OK to say.

Anything along the lines of: “Have you tried not being sad/manic?” is one of those questions that leave me with my jaw on the floor. I always want to reply with something along the lines of, “No! What a great idea! I cannot believe that I haven’t thought of that already!”

Having a mental illness is draining partly because you spend more time imagining what your life would be like if you didn’t have it.

A few others include, but are not limited to, the following: “Why haven’t you just made the effort to feel better?” Or, “I don’t think it’s healthy that you depend on those pills to ‘make you feel better.’” And my personal favorite: “It’s like you’re not even trying.”

So what can you say that isn’t offensive? A general rule of thumb here is to just be a decent human being in response to someone sharing personal information. Just smile and ask broad questions if you must, but please just be nice.