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There is a tremendous lack of awareness of mental illness and (thankfully) current, humane treatments available. Movies and media have done mental illness a serious injustice in their portrayal of those with mental illnesses (think of like movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl Interrupted, Frances). The reality is that a majority with mental illness are NOT violent, many can be very highly functioning, highly creative, and highly intelligent people and today there are some good treatments available. However, those that are suffering could use some encouragement and support in their hour of need and suffering.

When I recently appeared on a TVO episode of The Agenda, I was asked about “suffering” and why it is always used when speaking of the mentally ill. My answer was that it DOES involve suffering. Although periods of wellness can be known and enjoyed, the reality of many mental illnesses is that there will be periods of illness as well. These times require medication adjustments, extra therapy if available, and as much support and encouragement as is humanly possible to assist someone through an episode of sickness. I have previously spoken of “lifestyle changes” to assist in recovery and wellness, but being in the depths of an episode of sickness can be a challenging time to make several significant lifestyle changes. As one is recovering from an episode, it is possible some “lifestyle changes” can be slowly incorporated over time to support medication therapies. But, in the midst of a crisis all one can do is provide some encouragement, support and avoid making certain statements. Below is a summary that will hopefully inspire further ideas of “what to” and “what not to” say to someone who is struggling.

Best Things to Say

  1. I care about you.
  2. Can I help you? What could I do?
  3. You are amazing and strong, you can get through this, I know you can.
  4. I’m here to support you any way I can.
  5. I’d be happy to just listen to you.
  6. This must be hard for you.
  7. Would you like to go for a walk?
  8. Have you seen your Doctor? Could I help you get there?
  9. You don’t need to apologize for the way you are feeling.
  10. I love you unconditionally.

Worst Things to Say

  1. You don’t need those pills, you would be better off without them.
  2. Just pull yourself together.
  3. You look fine, are you sure something is wrong?
  4. Why don’t you just loosen up and have some fun.
  5. We all have our challenges, why don’t you just snap out of it.
  6. Think positively!
  7. You think you have problems?
  8. You could choose to be well if you wanted to.
  9. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
  10. You were off work for how long???

Think about someone with cancer or epilepsy or diabetes. Would you ask them “are you sure something is wrong” or “just loosen up and have fun”? When someone has a mental illness, they literally have neurotransmitters misfiring causing the symptoms experienced. This is completely and utterly out of the control of someone suffering, and worst of all in some cases those who are ill simply lack insight into their own illness and cannot see it for what it is. This is the unfortunate reality, so if you can find it in your heart to avoid running away, and stick around to be encouraging, the above list may assist you in being a supportive friend or family member. I can speak from first-hand experience when I say that encouragement and love from family and friends can be almost as important as the medication required to settle the neurotransmitters that fail me when I’m ill.

Can you add to either of these lists? Please contribute in the comments below.

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