Ignorance is a two way street. We need to come together as a group if we want to erase the social stigmas our society has weighed so heavily on when it comes to mental health.
Anyone who has come out to family, friends, or coworkers about mental health, regardless of the diagnosis, knows what I’m referring to. I’m talking about the bird brained comments that follow the revelation of your troubles. It’s hard enough dealing with mental health issues than having to deal with the uniformed remarks.
Unfortunately most people don’t realize how these words can affect us or the reality of the situation. Most of us brush it off but sometimes it’s hard for us (at least for me) to bite our tongues. I’ll mostly be referring to bipolar disorder because that’s what I have experience with but this goes for all mental health issues from depression to anxiety to PTSD.
1. Isn’t there medication for that?
Yes, of course there is. Some people choose not to take medication. They try alternatives. That is their choice. I need medication. Regardless if I’m on medication, it’s not a quick fix nor do pills fix everything. Mental illness cannot, I repeat cannot, be cured. They can go into intermission. Think of it in terms of cancer, it can’t be cured. Meds do not make the problems go away completely. They are not miracle pills. They only ease symptoms. In the case of bipolar disorder, there are several meds for several symptoms. There are pills to stabilize mood to prevent manic episodes and there’s also medication that treats the down swings, which are different from clinical depression. This remark brings me to the next…
2. Are you taking your meds?
Ugh. Just ugh. Don’t ever ask someone with mental illness that. It’s one of the worst in this list, possibly the worst to say altogether. Again, meds aren’t a cure all. That’s not how it works. Do meds for someone who is diabetic fix all their physical health issues? No. The lowest aspect of this question is that nine times out of ten, it comes after I get angry or upset. Do not invalidate my feelings (or anyone else’s) by assuming they are always due to a bipolar mood or mental illness. Even if I’m having a mood swing, you still can’t invalidate my feelings. My emotions aren’t artificial. My mood swings are mostly triggered by my real emotions, they are just taken to the extreme.
3. Calm down.
You are pretty much saying, “You are just acting this way because of your mental illness”. Just like above, that’s invalidating my feelings. This got said to me by a co-worker not long after I confided about my mental illness to them. I needed to vent. By telling me to calm down, I only got more upset. I also felt as if this co-worker thought I was going to jump over the counter and attack someone. Don’t get me wrong. There are few (far and in between) who are violent due to mental illness. That’s just another horrible stigma. According to a study done by Dr. Heather Stuart in 2003*, those with mental disorders are more likely to get abused in personal relationships than to be violent. Boom! You’ve just been told.
4. God/a walk in the forest/some weird diet will help you. Just think positive.
Firstly, there’s a giant difference between situational depression and clinical depression or bipolar depression. Situational depression is a short term depression which can be caused by a bad relationship or a troubling event, like grief. It can take a while, but changes in your life will end situational depression, not to belittle any form of depression. Clinical depression is an imbalance in the brain. Nature walks or praying to God (if you are the religious type) isn’t going to cure you. That’s not how depression works or any other form of mental illness. Bipolar disorder is the dysfunction of chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, in the brain. So, again, just a walk/prayer/eating right will not fix anything. Don’t get me wrong, they may help to alleviate symptoms but it won’t make mood swings vanish into thin air.
5. Oh, you use to self-harm? You must have wanted attention.
Yes, that’s exactly why I hid my scars for years with long sleeves. When I was twenty five, I convinced everybody at work my bandaged arm was due to a burn. Please, please, please, allow me tell you how it was not about attention. I don’t negate that there are teenagers out there who have hurt themselves for attention, but even so, that attention is because they are calling out for help before they do something more extreme. It’s a form of punishment for strong feelings of shame or guilt. It’s like pressure is building up inside of you and there was only one way to release the emotions, the numbness.
6. You seem fine.
Sigh. Not everyone with mental illness is always on the brink of a mental breakdown. Not everyone is candid about their struggles. Just because someone seems fine on the outside, doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling on the inside.
I realize that there have been numerous articles on this subject but I just wanted to take it a step further and explain why these comments are offensive and unhelpful. For those of you who don’t have to deal with mental health, I hope you learn why these comments, though you may mean well, are just the absolute worst.
Please drop me a comment about other remarks you hate hearing! Don’t forget to subscribe and share!
If you ever feel like you want to hurt yourself, please reach out to a friend, a family member, or text the National Suicide Hotline “connect” at 741741.
STUART, H. (2003). Violence and mental illness: an overview. World Psychiatry, 2(2), 121–124.