Nine Things Not To Do To Someone With Mental illness.

It’s World Mental Health Day. I have to admit this year I might have forgotten, if I hadn’t been on Facebook and noticed a friend saying she was trying to write something. I, in the interests of inspiration, then asked my friends what I should write about and found myself swamped with ideas. As I couldn’t cover all of their insightful suggestions, I decided to pick just one. So here it is.

Nine Things Not To Do To Someone With Mental illness.


1) Don’t Speak: This seems to fly in the face of perceived wisdom. We are supposed to talk to someone when they are unwell: ask if they’re okay, if they want to speak about anything, if something is worrying them, if they have eaten, if they want a drink, if they want to go for a short walk around the block to get a breath of fresh air, if they want to lie down. Taking is important and crucial to forming connections with people who are at breaking point, but so is silence. When I have been severely depressed, having someone sit next to me without saying a word has been such a comfort. It doesn’t feel intrusive, there are no expectations for me to speak or fill in the gaps, I can just sit and feel the presence of another person next to me and not feel so alone.

2) Don’t Expect Us to Help You Understand: It often falls to the one who is unwell to explain what is wrong. Although there are lots of books and online resources exploring different mental illnesses, people still want the person suffering to explain things to them. This may be fine once the person has recovered, (sometimes), but it’s not helpful during the period they are ill. Even someone with a physical illness or disease isn’t necessarily going to want to explain it to every person who asks, and it’s the same with mental illness. Do your own research. Improve your own understanding.

3) Don’t Take Anything Personally: When people become unwell, the only thing that matters is somehow getting through it or not as is sometimes the case. You may think your party for your 50th will be fabulous or the trip to the cinema you’ve arranged with drinks after and possibly a meal sounds perfect or that beer in a pub on a Saturday night with the lads is not to be missed, but for someone in crisis with  mental illness, they don’t care. They are fighting to get through another drawn out minute, another achingly, painful second. Fighting to not give in or not to finally give up. Fighting to hang onto the smallest, stray thread of something representing wellness and peace of mind.


4) Don’t Try To Fix Us: Having a mental illness doesn’t mean we are broken or some sort of weak, ineffectual creature that needs fixing. To be fair, we are all a little broken in this world, those thinking they aren’t, are some of the most broken of all. Living with mental illness takes strength, courage and tenacity. We have to be focused, moving with the punches as it were, and open and self-aware. It takes flexibility and creativity and hardy self-reliance. It takes the commitment to keep showing up. Nothing here sounds weak or in need of superglue to me.

5) Don’t Try and Brush It Away: I know it’s hard, no one wants to see a loved one or a friend suffer, but suffering is part of life and trying to brush it away because it makes you feel uncomfortable is not helpful and it meets your needs, not ours. Stay with us and be as brave as we are.

6) Don’t Treat Us Like Children: There seems to be something about the vulnerability and fragility of mental illness that can lead some people to treat us like kids. I have been treated like it myself, almost as if along with being ill, I have had an adjustment in intellect. Now I am not saying that sometimes we don’t get confused or fail to understand basic things or have a hard time looking after ourselves, but that doesn’t mean condescension needs to run rife or our competence in life needs to be based on a time when we were exceptionally unwell.swap-your-subjective-for-the-wider-objective-1

7) Don’t Tell Us How We Feel: Often, and especially if you are depressed, you will act like a magnet to those who think they know why you look so downcast. If I had a pound for every free bit of psych 101 and lame therapy people have handed out to me, my life, my house and maybe even my bath would be paved with gold. Maybe they are trying to be helpful, maybe it’s ego, either way, if we tell you, listen, if we don’t, please don’t guess.

8) Don’t Tell Us To Pull Ourselves Together: Believe me, if we could pull ourselves together, we would. If there was some sort of switch or pull cord that could right all the wrongs and plaster a great big grin on our face, we would be on it in a flash. It’s not how it works. Either have patience or bog off.

9) Don’t Tell Us To Get Some Pills: The idea that psychiatrists have a collection of little shiny pills they can hand out and turn you into a shiny happy person in a day or two (Sorry, REM) is a myth. There is no such thing. Medication can help, but it takes time and this reductive idea that it’s a magical cure for everything does more harm than good.


10) Talk: laugh, joke, be yourself and let us be ourselves too, whatever that currently looks like. We live in a society that is afraid of anything outside of the norm, so be the person that reaches out a hand and offers a ray of hope. You might need it yourself one day, but we need it today.

And that’s about it. What do you find helpful and unhelpful? Let me know in the comments below.

© Copyright Henrietta M Ross.

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14 thoughts on “Nine Things Not To Do To Someone With Mental illness.

  1. Lots of great points here. The only other thing I can think to offer is that people should remember that we’re more than just our illnesses, we’re still friends, mothers, aunties, grandmothers, etc. I am way more than my bipolar. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for writing this today, Henrietta. It’s spot-on. #1—Don’t speak—is something I have desperately wished for when I haven’t been well. A hand to hold, a hug, but NO WORDS! I remember wanting a hug from a friend but knowing it wouldn’t come without unwanted advice, so just staying alone.

    Liked by 1 person

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