The act of sharing the vulnerability and their mental health journey with us shows that they finally got the courage to share and trust us with their feelings. Naturally, one may automatically fall into the pit of overthinking to do the right thing or say the right thing.
We are here to help you steer clear of things you should not be saying to someone with mental illness, even if it’s coming from a place of care and concern:
Asking people to “put things into perspective”
“It could be worse” / “You’re living a good life.” / “You don’t seem like someone who would be going through something like this.”\
It is always helpful and healthy to practice gratitude. The brain releases dopamine and serotonin when we work through the feelings of gratefulness. However, such practices come with an understanding of what the individual wants to heal.
Bluntly asking someone to be thankful for their lives while they are struggling to manage it, is unhelpful.
Attempting performative empathy
“I know how you’re feeling, I too feel down sometimes.”
Anybody sharing about their mental health condition isn't aiming to find a connection, they are probably doing so to feel lighter and accepted. You don't have to act like you experience and feel exactly what they feel, in an attempt to be the relatable friend. This might just blow up in your face. The person sharing will probably realize that you don't have much idea of what you are talking about.
You can be honest. It allows the person to trust you further. Saying that you might not know everything about it, but are always here to learn and help, builds better trust and support.
All talk no show
“Let’s talk about it.” / “I’m here if you want to share.”
Yes, it is helpful but when we are not able to commit to our own words, are not able to listen to the party with our full attention, or follow up with a pep talk, we end up making the person feel less comforted, rather, further lost.
When you offer to be there for friends in need, you also have to realize if you are actually making yourself available when they need you or if you truly have the bandwidth to listen to them. A lot of times, we hear complaints about people practicing performative wokeness or MH support, and at the same time, not following up with any of the promises they made.
Instead, you can be honest about your shortcomings. You don't have to do certain things if you don't want to, and can always mention what you are capable of or open to learning.
"Get up early", "do yoga", "go out and meet people"
You don't have to be the uncle in the family gathering who just wants to give unnecessary advice about something he has no clue about, because that's exactly how you will be perceived.
Yes, maybe your getting up on time changed your life for the better, or that exercising keeps the person in a better mindset, nonetheless, you might be talking to a person who is struggling to get out of bed every day and views each task in the routine as a battle. Telling them that they can just change things, when they have been trying really hard to do the exact same thing for the past months or years is really insensitive on your part.
Try just listening or asking what have they been doing and, if you can help them with anything.
"Tomorrow is a new day", "You can always start fresh"
Yeah... well, they know that. The idea of change is great when you want to hone a new skill or hobby or start things fresh. However, for someone who is trying to cope with the mental and or physical anguish along with maybe professional help, they are aware that it is a long journey ahead. They are trying their best to start afresh too, but, mental health issues do hamper our well-being in various ways that can't be solved with just a good night's sleep and a new day.
If you want to motivate your loved one, you can try to help them through the routine they find difficult, which helps them deal with other things too.
Reducing their experience
"Humare Zamane me koi depressed nahi hota tha." "mental illness is a hoax" (So is climate change, duh!)
The very meaning of their sharing their feelings and trusting you is taken away when their experience or feelings are reduced to, "it's all in your head," or "you're overthinking". This doesn't help, at all. It would in turn make the individual more and more distant to you.
There are different ways we can show support to our loved ones. Being mindful of how we communicate our feelings is very important. Show up, be patient, and, listen.
An important thing to note is while taking care of an individual with mental health concerns can lead to exhaustion of your energy too. So take very good care of yourself while you take care of them.