Dumb Things People Say To “Help” Those With Mental Illness

It happens to all of us: we’re smack in the middle of a mood episode and a family member or friend, in an effort to be helpful, utters some platitude about how we need to cheer up in depression, or to settle down when we’re manic. But while we know they’re only trying to make us feel better, there are some phrases that are most UNhelpful, and if we never hear them again it would still be a day too soon. Among them:

“Just smile and think positive.” Now, if that were all that was required to pull ourselves out of an episode, don’t you think we would? Nobody chooses to be depressed; believe me, we’ve thought about this one and it’s just not as easy as it looks.

“Have you tried yoga?” Personally, I haven’t because I can’t get down on the floor, let alone do all those contortions—er, poses. I’ve heard that it can be a good adjunct to medications so I wouldn’t dismiss its benefits, but again, if all it took to manage bipolar disorder were a few exercises, the illness wouldn’t exist.

“You need to pray more. God can cure you.” Yes, I’m sure He can, but so far He hasn’t chosen to, and besides, my prayer life is my own business. I have spoken with Him many times about all this, and He’s been silent on the matter.

“You don’t need pills. They’re poison.” I don’t know about anyone else, but my “pills” have saved my life on more than one occasion. I know they can have bad side effects, and yes, I have some of them. I’ve gained weight and have tremors in my hands. I get dizzy when I stand up too fast and I have brain fog. Sometimes I worry about the long term because I’m going to be on psych meds for the rest of my life. But I’m still here. ‘Nuff said.

My _____ (sister, aunt, grandfather, fill in the blank) had depression, and they just used vitamins and a healthy diet to cure it.” For one thing, there is no “cure” for mental illness, and for another, if diet and supplements were enough to control it they probably didn’t have a very bad case. These things can help, but for most of us, other measures are necessary.

“Why would you pay for therapy when you can talk to me for free?” Because—bless your heart—my psychiatrist is an objective observer who can give me the tools I need to cope with all this. He has the training, experience, and skills to deal with complex psychological problems. But I still like talking to you too.

“You need to mellow out. Take some deep breaths and quiet your mind.” That’s like asking a volcano to shut off the lava flow instantaneously. The only non-drug method that works at calming me down was initiated by my husband Will, and he’s probably the only person on earth who can get away with it. He takes both my hands in his, puts his face up close to mine and gently (but firmly) encourages me to focus on the sound of his voice. He will repeat the same mantra over and over, until he sees that I’ve internalized it, and then he strokes my cheek and reminds me that he loves me and that he really wants me to calm down. It’s almost as effective as a PRN Zyprexa.

“Mental illness isn’t real. It’s just a scam to make money for Big Pharma.” This one renders me speechless. Seriously. You can’t reason with people who think like this. Fortunately I’ve been given this line only once, and my quietness must have been taken the way it was meant because the person shut up and a VERY awkward silence followed. If I could have spoken, it would have been along the lines of “WTF is wrong with you?!”

These are a few of my personal issues with the advice given to us by well-meaning “normies”. What are yours?

Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

7 thoughts on “Dumb Things People Say To “Help” Those With Mental Illness

  1. I had to roll my eyes at most of these. Heard most of them and couldn’t believe someone actually firmly believed that what they said was “helpful.”

    I think the one that got me the most is that mental illness is a ‘daemon’ inside my wife and they would pray to have God remove it.

    WTF? Seriously?!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. To be honest yoga is more than “few excercises”. It is a whole philosophy. Many people say meditation doesn’t work for them, but they try few times and give up. That’s like taking one Prozace and when you don’t feel better in five minutes, tossing the pills in trash, declaring “meds don’t work, I tried”.

    And yoga is not about putting legs behind your neck. You can do yoga even with physical handicaps.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. i agree with you @venushhalley1984…nothing wrong with suggesting yoga or meditation. and you have to give it a chance. for me (who has intractable lifelong depression), meditation has been a life saver…for me AND my ‘victims’. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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