Trigger warnings: Suicide. Mental health disbelief. Mention of medication/addiction.
Talking about mental health is important. It’s the first step towards getting help. It helps reduce stigma. It can help you find people who can support your recovery.
But talking to the wrong people can be nothing short of disastrous. People who are dismissive. People who are laissez-faire in the extreme. People who – be they trained professionals, public figures, or strangers on the internet – give awful advice.
I’ve received some good advice in the past, but I’ve also had some that was abysmal. And the worst advice, when presented as good, can be the most damaging. And so, I share the worst advice, comments and random statements, and how they were more a hindrance than a help.
“I don’t believe in depression”
You probably also don’t believe in climate change or the female orgasm, but trust me, they all exist. I feel them.
“I’ve been through x, y and z, and I never got depressed…”
I’m happy for you. I’m not happy for me though, and that’s very much the problem. We’re all different; different things have different effects, brain chemistries are unique. And telling me how you have done a-okay may seem like you’re trying to help – but really, it just makes me forget about our differences and criticise myself for not being able to react like you did.
“Don’t take antidepressants, you’ll get addicted”
This is very much a conversation for me to have with my doctor, thanks. I’ve taken antidepressants in various forms for 7 years now, and I’m not so much addicted to the pills as I’m addicted to serotonin. And you are too!
“Just calm down”
Never in the history of language has anyone calmed down when being told to calm down.
“Those who take their own lives are just being selfish/how could you do this to me?”
This is not about you. People who want to hurt or kill themselves do so because they can’t see any other way out. They don’t think things will get better, they can’t take the pain anymore. Heaping the guilt of “what about me” in the darkest time of someone else’s life is possibly the most selfish thing you could do, actually. Same for moaning because your train is now late. Ask how you can help, or offer to just be there. Or better yet, just keep your mouth shut.
“You’re just worried/there’s nothing to worry about”
Worry happens when something is troubling and you respond to it with a reasonable level of heightened emotion/heightened physical response. Anxiety is, by definition, irrational. I cannot talk myself out of anxiety. You cannot talk me out of anxiety. I can try to stop myself from letting it trigger a spiral, but the initial reaction is not because I’m just a bit worried. It’s actually because my brain is broken.
“Other people can do this/this is just a part of being an adult”
Thank you for the reminder that I am worse than everyone else. So helpful.
“Depression/anxiety etc. is just ‘an experience’, it’s not part of your identity”
Calling it ‘an experience’ makes it sound like something I can choose to walk away from. I experience a depressive episode the same way I experience a gay pride parade; but afterwards I am still very much depressed and gay.
“You should exercise more”
I can’t get out of bed, but sure, I’ll put that on my to do list.
“You should exercise to get yourself used to the experience of being a little bit out of breath, so that when an anxiety attack is starting, you’re not shocked by the sensation”
I’ve never heard a bigger lot of tosh in my entire life. That’s not what anxiety is. Are you sure you’re qualified to tell me that?
“You’re in a [weather event], you’re not the [weather] – you’re going through that”
Sounds profound, if you don’t really think about it. On a meditation app I used to use, the narrator also describes thoughts like water – a river, in her case. You want to listen to the babbling brook, you want to have your feet in, you want to not get dragged into the rapids below. But the water in both of these still represents your thoughts – it’s a part of you and whether it’s adverse weather or a stream that you choose to picture, your thoughts and all that essentially makes you “you” is in there somewhere.
The key is to let your thoughts be there, and to allow them the space they need while you try not to drown. Eventually, you’ll get better at seeing things differently, but probably not while you’re already drowning.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when you’re going through bad mental health, sometimes you can’t possibly see a way out so this just invalidates the experience.
“Imagine forgiving yourself completely”
What? For everything? Even that time I put my brother in a cupboard? What kind of advice is that? What are you, a sentient Live, Laugh, Love decal?
“Live. Laugh. Love.”
Oh. F*ck. Off.
The best advice I can give you for dealing with your mental health is this: Try to manage the best you can in the way that is healthiest for you. If that’s a run in nature, then I don’t understand you but fine. If that’s praising yourself for getting out of bed to go to the toilet, then that’s wonderful too. Try to seek professional help in whatever form you can. This, right now, it sucks, I know. But as long as you stay here, that’s enough.
If you’re experiencing issues with your mental health, please seek professional help if it is available to you. If it isn’t, please at least confide in someone you trust, and see if there are options for you.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, or any thoughts of harming yourself, seek help immediately. If you urgently think you may act on them, call an ambulance.
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