10 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness

Hey everybody today we’re gonna talk about 10 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness – that’s right 10 Things NOT to say. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness, so we all know someone struggling whether we realize it or not.

This is for those of us who love to be helpful and sometimes stick our foot in our mouth anyway. By the way, I compiled this list with the help of my husband and a friend both of whom have bipolar disorder.

# 1 Don’t say: “Oils will help you.”

This might be my favorite one. Although oils are great and helpful for other things they are not going to cure depression. Mental illness is related to chemical imbalances, neurological issues, family history or even traumatic experiences.

#2 Don’t say: “You should try harder to get better.”

Having a mental illness does not mean that your lazy or that you lack discipline or perseverance. People are doing their best to get through each day.

#3 Don’t say:  and this is an actual quote “I really question if you have a relationship with God, if you’re depressed. A Christian should have joy.”

If your purpose is shaming, perfect, but if not, don’t say it.  This is completely and utterly unhelpful. Mental illness is NOT a spiritual issue, it’s just like any other disease, and like other illness, we pray for the sick that they might recover, but we do not blame the person with cancer when they aren’t healed, so let’s not do that with mental illness.

#4 Don’t say: “Do you have a history of this in your family?”

This especially applies when you aren’t close to the person. They might not want to discuss the painful family history. And really, what difference does it make if it runs in their family or not—they are facing a disease and simply need the support to fight it.

#5 Don’t say: “I’m praying that you will be able to get off your medication.”

Let’s be real: No one says to someone who has broken their arm: I’m praying you’ll be able to get your cast off early. No one says this to someone with heart disease. Why would you say it to someone with a mental illness? Don’t do it.

#6 Don’t say: “Let me tell you about my aunt who has the same illness.”

Let me clarify. While it’s nice to know you’re not alone in your illness, the real help is in being a good listener. If you want to share a story listen first and then ask if you can relate your experience. Listening is key.

#7 Don’t say: “Well, it’s really your own fault.”

When you experience a mental health crisis, it has the potential to affect your thinking, your mood, and your relationships in a profound way. We all face the consequences to our decisions, but rubbing someone’s face in that does not offer hope.

#8 Don’t say: “Well at least you’re not as bad off as the starving children in…”

There’s always someone worse off than us. Each person is experiencing their own struggle. Let’s honor that, not dismiss it.

#9 Don’t refer to the person by their illness.

My husband is not Bipolar Mike. He’s a person struggling against bipolar. Mental illness is not an identity.

#10 Don’t say: “Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It’s time to get over it.”

I can’t think of something less helpful than this. Period.

Bonus: Don’t talk in hushed tones while asking “How are you?”

Do you really want to know how they are? Most of the time people just want to hear: “I’m getting better!” But it’s not that simple.

The person with mental illness might want to scream: “I’m dying inside! This is really hard.” Are you prepared for that answer?


So what’s missing from this list? What have people said to you? I’d love to hear it in the comments below. And I apologize in the advance for what people have said!

Ephesians 4:29: Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

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