Recently I’ve come across a number of articles/blog posts about what not to say to a friend/loved one with certain mental health problems. Whilst these are useful, as it’s hard to know what comments could affect others more than you, constantly hearing ‘don’t say this’ and ‘don’t say that’ can make people feel like they have to tiptoe around people who are struggling. This feeling is not necessary and can make the conversation even harder to have than it already is, or prevent it from happening altogether. This would only increase the feelings of isolation and loneliness that the sufferer may already be going through.
So, instead of that, I thought I’d share 10 ideas about what to say to a friend/loved one with mental health problems. Here we are.
1) ‘How are you?’ The number of people who’ve told me they feel as if they’re prying by asking someone who they know is struggling how they are is shocking. Mental health problems or not, we are all people and sometimes we’re okay, other times we’re not. You don’t have to advise or provide solutions if we’re not; just listen and be a friend.
2) ‘Do you want to go out on …?’ Personally I didn’t withdraw myself socially when I was struggling, (I felt best with my friends), but I know that many people do. Don’t stop inviting them to nights out and events because of their struggles, instead, try to help them live a ‘normal’ life and show that you don’t judge them and you appreciate their company.
3) ‘You deserve to be happy.’ Whether it’s due to the illness itself, self-stigma or poor support, many people with mental health problems come to the conclusion that they deserve to feel the way they do. This can mean they don’t get the support they need. Your words could encourage them to get help sooner rather than later.
4) ‘I’m so glad you’re in my life.’ Something I’ve been thinking about a lot these days is how we express our love and appreciation for people so much more after they pass, when they can’t hear it anymore. I wish we expressed more before this.
5) ‘Remember when…’ Sometimes things seem so dark that it’s hard to remember there was ever light. Talk about good memories. Plan to make more.
6) ‘You’re not a weirdo.’ Having different thoughts or feelings to the people around you can make you feel like you don’t fit in or ‘belong’. Remind your friend/loved one that you love them for who they are, and they are not just their illness.
7) ‘You can be honest with me.’ People struggling often feel like no one understands, forgetting that no one can understand unless they share what they’re going through – ask them. Being that person they know they can share everything with is one of the most rewarding and beautiful you can do.
8) ‘Do you want to go for a walk?’ We are indoors way too much these days. Take in some fresh oxygen and do some deep breathing with your friend to slow those racing thoughts down.
9) ‘How is treatment going?’ Treatment is a difficult and emotional process, and having someone to talk to about it (other than professionals) can be really helpful. Don’t feel the need to tiptoe around the subject. Fight the stigma; the person struggling will probably really appreciate it.
10) ‘Would you like a hug?’ This one doesn’t really need an explanation, does it?
Overall my message is to just show kindness and compassion, interact with them as normally as possible and don’t dismiss or minimise the pain they may be experiencing. It’s difficult to see a loved one suffer so look after yourself too.