The Mental Illness Discussion: Words That Hurt & Words That Help

Discussing mental health can be a touchy subject.

But it doesn’t have to be. I believe the more open we are with mental health and mental health struggles, the better we can understand and serve one another as we all seek wellness.

In my experience with bipolar depression and anxiety, there are some buzz words that help, and some that just plain don’t. Let me discuss them with you.

Words that hurt:

  1. “Try to read the Bible or pray more.” When I am close to God, I find healing. But healing isn’t always automatic or guaranteed. It can be a slow, painful process.
  2. “Are you even trying to get better?” Yes. Always. Is there tangible evidence of our efforts? Likely not. It’s a slow and steady and sometimes unsure battle.
  3. “It’s like I don’t even know you anymore.” We know, because we also don’t know ourselves — or at least, this version of us. You don’t have to affirm what we already know and hate.

Words that help:

  1. “I’m here with you.” Perhaps even better than being here “for” someone, being “with” me implies you are voluntarily fighting this illness just as much as I am. After all, we are both doing our best to combat its presence.
  2. “I don’t know what it’s like, but…” If you truly don’t know how depression, psychosis or another mental illness feels, then own it. It’s OK to be unable to relate. Sometimes it’s hard when people try to relate without any history or background.
  3. “How can I help?” You won’t truly know how to help until you ask. Sometimes I just need someone to sit with, sometimes I need a long talk or a gentle hug. It depends on the time and place and person, so just ask.
  4. “Tell me how you feel.” Sometimes it overwhelms me when others constantly ask me for a feelings update, but every now and then it’s nice to have the opportunity to express what I am going through.
  5. “Do what you need to do.” Sometimes I need rest, space, community, prayer. It always changes, so it’s nice to know I’m supported with whatever is best for me.

Now I am only one person.

My experience with depression and anxiety is likely different from someone else’s, say your mom’s, or friend’s, or coworker’s, or even yours.

I think the safest way to start is by coming to your friend who is suffering, and asking what they need, how they feel, and tangible ways you can help.

Or if you are the one suffering yourself, even though it may be hard to do, you can admit to your friends or family that you need support through prayer, verbal encouragement, hugs, or whatever you think works best for you.

I hope this helps.

If you are reading this and someone who has mental health struggles, I hope you feel seen and heard, known and loved. Even if these aren’t the exact words you would like to hear, I hope you know you’re not alone in this fight.

If you are reading this and love someone who has mental health struggles, I hope you know just how needed and cherished you are. You make us feel stronger and encouraged. You make us feel loved!

No matter who you are, I hope this is a good foundation, a helpful conversation starter for you to have with your friends and loved ones. I hope we can surround each other with love, support and encouragement. It takes a village, after all.

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