There is still so much stigma surrounding mental illness that most people in today’s society have no clue when it comes to addressing someone who exhibits symptoms of mental distress. Children, especially, are victims of the ignorance that envelops society—Most parents and family members tend to blame obvious behavioral issues on the child’s age, and usually do more damage than good when attempting to address them. My depressive issues began when I was 8 years old, but it was only when I was 30 that I first received professional help. By that time I had suffered tremendously and felt completely misunderstood. My life had nosedived to great lows, and my hope was barely holding on. This is why I believe that everyone must educate themselves on how to deal with and talk to someone with a mental illness, because it could be their parents, siblings, friends, and even children. Let us start by exploring some basic things NOT to say, so we don’t make things worse than they already are.
“You Just Need To Get Over It”
This expression is probably the blue print for the meaning of mental illness stigma, and the one that many of us likely hear most often. Telling someone who suffers mental distress to simply get over it is like telling the diabetic to stop taking their insulin and “get over it”, or the cancer patient to get over the side effects of their radiation treatment. Imbalances in the brain are often chemical, and there is no getting over that.
When you tell someone to get over it, you make them feel that they are not capable of handling their emotions, and not strong enough to take control of their lives. Secondly, you prove to them that you do not really understand what they are going through, and this will make the struggling individual feel more isolated and alone than ever before.
“Just Go Outside and Take a Walk, You Will Feel Much Better”
Although it is proven fact that exercise helps with Serotonin production, thus making you feel good, the emotions that come with mental illness are often not that easily swayed. Some people seem to think that someone that suffers from depression, for example, is just lazy and not doing enough to help themselves. They think that if the person simply goes outside and breathes in the fresh air, they will realize that the way they were feeling was just a lack of trying. The results of thinking this way could be devastating, as again, the person suffering will feel more alone and misunderstood than ever.
It is true that there is a certain amount of effort that must be exerted by anyone that suffers from mental illness. No one starts feeling better by just waiting. Living with a chronic condition is a daily fight. It will bring challenges that one has to learn to face with courage. But when you feel so bad that simple tasks like brushing your teeth become nearly impossible, someone telling you to go outside if you want things to get better is downright absurd. There are other ways of helping someone emotionally other than offering your questionable, non-medical advice that lacks base and makes things worse.
Sometimes is better to simply listen to show true support.
“You Need To Pray More”
It is my opinion that spirituality is an important aspect of being human, and faith can help us look toward an unknown future with hope. But blaming someone’s lack of faith as the cause for their mental problems makes no sense. Gone are the days when we thought the erratic behavior of some mental patients was of demonic nature, like so many movies and legends have implanted in our heads. Plus, telling someone that their faith is lacking, resulting in their mental woes, can make them question their relationship with a higher power, doubting if they are truly loved or not. You want to be uplifting; raising the person’s spirit, not bringing it down. Don’t judge or look for unfounded reasons to blame for a person’s illness. If you both share the same faith, talk about your mutual love of a higher power, and the great things you believe that power can do for you. But also remember to leave the judgement to that higher power, and avoid becoming a bridge to useless negativity.
These are three main examples of what someone who suffers from mental illness will often hear. The basic advice is to use common sense and avoid diminishing or belittling the seriousness of the situation. Avoid offering unfounded solutions based on incorrect information, and don’t use spirituality to judge but rather to uplift.