3 Things You Should Never Say to Someone With a Mental Illness

Whether you realize it or not you know someone who has a mental illness.  Some people are very open about it, while others (especially in the African American community) suffer in silence either because of denial or lack of a diagnosis.  Regardless of whether or not someone is open about his or her mental illness there is still a lack of empathy for those who have it.  A great way to overcome this is to be more mindful of the things you say.

I’m not an expert but I, myself having been diagnosed with anxiety, pay close attention to the things people say and what they have said in the past.  People are unsympathetic, lack compassion/understanding and can be downright mean about such a serious issue.  I have had to put some distance between myself and some people because of some of the ignorance that has come out of their mouth.

Here is a list of things that you should not say to someone with a mental illness:

1.“Get over it.” There is a difference between someone being a little extra dramatic every now and then and consistently over reacting.  If you know someone who gets extremely angry at the smallest instance, there is a chance there is more to it.  Consistent extreme mood changes and excessive anger are sings of untreated mental illness.

What you should do:  Recognize that there is no way on Earth to just get over a mental illness.  If you think someone you care about has an issue talk to them about it and let them know you are concerned.  There is a chance that they don’t know they have it or are in denial.  You coming to them could be the step that helps them realize they need to seek help.

2.“Just pray about it.” Black folks are known for saying to this to everyone about any and everything.  I do believe that you should seek guidance from whatever higher power you believe in, however, mental illness cannot be prayed away.  If ignored or left untreated it will get worse PERIOD.  Help can be in the form of medication, meditation, therapy, change in diet, or a variety of other methods.  Prayer alone will not make it go away.  If someone tries to talk to you about mental illness, or anything for that matter, saying “Just pray about it” or “Give it to God” is very dismissive.  It’s as if you’re implying that it’s something temporary when it is so very permanent and deserves and requires to be detected and handled properly.

What you should do:  You can pray with and for them.  If it’s someone you really care about, first acknowledge that you understand it’s not easy to talk about something like this & help or encourage them to research how/where to get help.

3.“I can’t help you.” If someone comes to you asking for help or tells you something that is a clear sign that they need help…..help them!!!  Depression and negative/suicidal thoughts are things that go hand in hand with mental illness.  If someone is brave enough to share something with you or ask for help, try your best to help them as delicately as possible.

I went to a friend during a very hard time and that was pretty much her response.  I don’t know if things will ever be the same because letting someone I trusted know that I needed help was hard enough. This type of response is pretty much a “friend” rejecting you and your feelings.

What you should do:  Let that person know that everything is ok.  Ask why they feel that way and get them to open up.  Help them realize that you love them and so do their friends and family.  Saying “I love you” may seem small but can mean the world to someone who feels unloved. Mental illness will have you believing that no one on this Earth gives a damn if you live or die.

I know having a friend or family member with a mental illness can be a lot; it can be exhausting but if you love or care about someone you will help them fight the fight.  That’s what life feels like sometimes, like you’re constantly fighting something.  What that something is is the negative thoughts that can take over the mind.

If you feel you’re not strong enough or just don’t want to be bothered with anything I’ve described, you should kindly remove yourself from that person’s life.  I’ve had to distance myself and just not talk to certain people because they give me anxiety.  I used to feel bad, but not anymore.  For the sake of my health I do what I have to do to stay as healthy as possible.  Everyone deserves to do the same.

Jessica’s Story of Postpartum & How She Beat It

Today I will be featuring an awesome young lady who is no longer scared or silenced by her mental illness.  I just want to thank Jessica from the bottom of my heart for helping me to bring awareness to mental illness, especially in the African American community.  She’s a regular person who could be your friend, cousin, aunty, church member, or even you.

Here is her story:

I’m Jessica. I’m a serial entrepreneur and a divorced, homeschooling mom of three.   I’ve always been pretty mellow, emotionally. I definitely am more on the rational side. And, like most black women, I had internalized that idea that “strong” means you don’t cry, and crying or expressing emotion was “out of control.”

So imagine my surprise when, after the birth of my first child, I often found myself crying in the shower, fantasizing suicide and cutting myself.

Yeah…It was a lot for me to process, too.

To make matters worse, I was in a toxic marriage at a time before people were even talking about Postpartum Depression. Neither he nor I knew what was wrong with me. We both thought I was “crazy,” “weak” and “losing it” and of course we thought it best if we don’t tell anyone. Without us explicitly discussing it, it was somehow obvious to me that it was something I needed to try to hide, something shameful.  So I coped by cutting, because physical pain was easier to treat than the vague, suffocating, emotional pain that had no real source. And eventually got better.  That is, until my second child was born.

In the wee hours of the night, while trying to breastfeed, I found myself crying again for no reason. This time, I knew better than to let my unsupportive husband know or see. I soothed myself by playing out the different ways I could end my life…trying to figure out the least messy, least melodramatic. However, this time, the topic of Postpartum Depression had just entered our cultural consciousness. I didn’t talk to my doctor about it because, y’know, shame…but I felt like it was something I should look into.  When I got pregnant with my third child a few years later, for the first time a doctor just asked me outright “Do you struggle with any mental health issues? Any self-harm or anything like that in your childhood?”
“Uh, well. Yeah I was a cutter after I had my first child.”

The doctor’s eyes were full of concern. She questioned me further and we decided that what I was suffering from was Postpartum Depression. Together we made a plan to get ahead of it. I went to counseling throughout my pregnancy to develop behaviors to help when I felt myself slipping and I was giving and prescription to Cymbalta for after my daughter was born.   And it worked, she was the only child who got me at 100% because this time I was healthy and had the support to deal.

That was ten years ago.

Since then I have had two bouts of depression. Only this time, I didn’t stay silent. I understand know that depression is not about personality, strength, or weakness…it’s about physiology. It’s science. This is something my “rational” mind can understand. If changes in my body can create illness in my lungs or stomach or heart, why not also the brain? It’s an organ like all the rest. No need to make it personal.

Now, I am very open about seeking counseling or therapy when I feel imbalanced, mentally. I am extremely more mindful of my diet and take self-care seriously. Especially now, juggling being a single, homeschooling mom and business owner, my self-care has never been more crucial. People often tell me I look like I have it all together, or that I make it look easy.  I am very quick to tell them “well, that’s just because I unplug from Facebook during my bouts of depression!” I never ever want to hide that part of myself from people again because, hopefully, by being candid, I can show people that it’s okay to acknowledge that sometimes you can’t out-think your body’s chemistry.