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J.R. Buchanan


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Hurtful things to say to someone with a mental illness

When you have a mental illness, fielding hurtful statements is just part of the territory. I've been told many things that annoy me, or in some cases make me angry. Some hurt me badly, that people view me that way.

There are many lists on the Internet of things to say, and things not to say to people with a mental illness, here are some links, "9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness", "Stop Minimizing Mental Illness: Worst Things to Say", "Supporting the Mentally Ill: Best Things to Say", "10 Things to Say (and 10 Not to Say) to Someone With Depression".

Some of the most hurtful things said to me are from close relatives. There are three that really hurt, it feels like yesterday, even though it's been more than 10 years. When I was particularly sick, not doing well at all, and seeing my mental health team in some cases more than once a week, an older relative told me, "In my day, when we felt that way we just had a cocktail and went on with life." What did I hear? "You're weak and give up easily, if you tried, you'd feel just fine." That really hurt, as I was trying very hard just to survive. In regard to surviving, I was told, "It wasn't a real suicide attempt, you're pretty competent, you'd be dead if it were real." What? I just wanted attention? Is that what was really being said? I felt lucky that a couple friends got my into a psych hospital for the first time after that (my second) attempt, I'm pretty sure the next time I would have been dead. And there would have been a next time. I wasn't trying for attention, I was fighting for my life, and barely made it. Yet people said these things? It still hurts today more than 10 years later. Another: Shortly after I was diagnosed, my first wife said to me, "Great, now I not only have a crazy son, I have a crazy husband as well." Not very helpful. I'm sure that's the start of what ended in divorce.

Those two were the worst, but I've been told many other things that, at the least, irritate me. The one that bothers me the most is claiming to understand what bipolar or OCD feel like. "I think we're all a little bipolar." Or, "I'm a bit OCD myself, I keep my house very clean." Another is the claim that I'm ungrateful for what I have, "You have good life, why do you act this way when so many people have it worse? Look at so and so, they have a real reason to suffer." "Just snap out of it!" is never useful either. "You spend all your time thinking about your illness, that's just making you worse, stop thinking about it all the time" is another I've heard. In a similar vein, "Why do you [post mental health articles to Twitter or Facebook/blog about mental health/go to support group meetings/wear NAMI (National Alliance on Mental illness) T-shirts/etc.] All that does is remind you that you're sick." It just goes on.

Has anyone said anything hurtful to you about your mental illness? Let us all know in the comments!

As usual, I'll post future updates to my Facebook and Twitter pages. Feel free to follow or friend or message me.

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