I know I've said things to my daughter about her anxiety that were immensely unhelpful.
And though I've apologized, I cringe thinking about how many more times she's going to have to hear unintentionally hurtful things about her mental health struggles.
Those of us who don't deal with mental health issues can sometimes stick our collective foot in our mouth. Big time.
It's only through years of talking about my daughter's experiences and observing it firsthand that I've learned how little I understood about mental illness. I've seen how well-meaning comments can totally miss the mark and how alienating such comments can be for those on the receiving end.
Lifestyle reporter Hattie Gladwell created a hashtag — #ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness — to highlight some of the ridiculous things people say to those struggling with mental health issues.
Gladwell posted a tweet asking people to share the most unhelpful or insensitive thing people have said about their mental illness, starting with her own example:
1. "One person told me I didn't need medication, I just needed to be more motivated."
The responses are incredibly telling of just how many misconceptions there are about mental illness.
2. "You don't look like you're mentally ill."
Image via That Girl With BPD/Twitter.
Because you can see inside someone's mind with your eyeballs? What?
3. "When you have a job and a family, all these thoughts will disappear."
Image via Elle/Twitter.
I am 100% certain that adding a job and a family on top of mental health issues is not a cure. For real.
4. "You have too much money to have anything wrong with you."
Image via Alice/Twitter.
Mental illness crosses all economic lines. You can't necessarily buy your way out of it.
5. "There is nothing wrong with you."
Image via Chazie/Twitter.
First, do you tell people with a missing limb that they're faking it and trying to get attention?
And second, depression isn't a contagious disease. For the love of...
6. "Weren't you taking meds?"
Image via Anne Greif/Twitter.
When it comes to medication and mental illness, you can't win for losing. People will tell you that you don't need meds. Then they'll tell you that you do need them. Then they'll question why you haven't miraculously been cured by them already.
People need to understand that medication is a management tool, not a cure-all, and that finding the right medication is like solving a complex puzzle with lots of moving parts. (Not to mention the struggle of finding the right therapist.)
7. "Have you tried praying away your depression?"
Image via Alisa/Twitter.
We don't tell people to pray away diabetes or heart disease or a broken bone. It makes just as little sense to tell someone to pray away their mental illness.
8. "So you're just superstitious?"
Image via Lydia/Twitter.
It's natural for people to try to relate with things they can understand, but making reaches such as these is just silly.
All of us have felt nervous, but that doesn't mean we truly understand clinical anxiety. All of us have felt down, but that doesn't mean we understand clinical depression.
9. "Have you ever thought about how there are people who have it much worse than you do?"
Image via Mika/Twitter.
Mental illness is not a product of selfishness. We can acknowledge and empathize with others while also going through our own stuff at the same time.
10. "It's attention seeking."
Image via Juliette Burton/Twitter.
A cornucopia of insensitivity!
But seriously, "I wish I was anorexic"? No, you really, really, really don't.
11. "Positive thinking is the key to battling depression."
(sigh) ... Sometimes truly all you can do is respond with sarcasm: #LiterallyNeverOccurredToMe.
The responses to this hashtag hold an important message: We all need to better our understanding of what people with mental health issues have to deal with all the time.
I'm not an innocent party here. I know I've said things that were unhelpful, and though it was always from a place of caring and concern, that intent didn't trump the impact of my words.
It's hard to understand something you've never experienced. And we need to acknowledge the fact that people with mental illnesses are experiencing something those of us without mental illnesses can't completely relate to.
But that doesn't mean we can't do our best to find out what actually is helpful to say.
Often times, a simple, empathetic, "I'm sorry you're going through this" or "Is there anything I can do to help?" — or simply listening without saying anything — is the best thing we can do.
But if we all take time to learn about mental illnesses we don't understand and strive to help those who are struggling to feel supported and loved without judgment or shame, the world will be a kinder place.