Just because you cannot see something, does not necessarily mean that its not there. I am not a religious man, but let us use God as an example. Billions of people who populate this planet believe in the existence of some form of God, despite no previous physical interaction with such an entity. There is this extended belief that ‘something’ exists, without any apparent observation. Thus, can we not make this applicable to mental health disorders and psychiatric disease?
Unfortunately, for those of you who suffer with psychological distress, or for those who care for someone who does, you will be all too aware of its double-edged nature. From personal experience, when times are good, I cherish every instant; cling onto every second… no wasted moment. The reverse to this is… just that. Episodes of depression, anxiety, and fear have crippled me in the past, pulling and dragging a withered mind into the dark abyss. I always considered it to be an inescapable truth. Motivation… non-existent. A total inability to get out of bed in the morning. Terrible drinking habits; and with vocally abusive outbursts at the epicenter of emotional despair, loneliness, and professed isolation, I pushed away those closest to me; losing some of my dearest friends in the process.
When someone is in distress, even words considered emotionally neutral can be misconstrued. This is usually due to the person being in a vulnerable place; underlining why it is so important to educate ourselves about what not to say to those in need. As a species however, we do not have some magical innate capacity to help someone who has a psychological illness. We all have to be taught this ability.
Insensitive comments are all too common, whereby remarks that imply that mental illness as a form of emotional weakness take center stage. I would like to go through some examples of problematic statements that I myself have received, alongside a vast array of other individuals, highlighting why they should be avoided.
“Keep yourself busy and distract yourself.”
This advice may appear helpful, but only on paper. Navigating through life with constant diversion tactics only distracts from the underlying problems – it doesn’t make them go away.
“Change your attitude.”
A change in perspective has its benefit, of course. But it needs to be highlighted that some conditions, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, can’t just miraculously be cured by changing your outlook. This especially applies when you consider how mentally exhausting and debilitating conditions such as schizophrenia must be.
“Stop focusing on the bad stuff, and just start living.”
This can lead to self-criticism and feelings of worthlessness. An individual may feel like they’re suffocating as a consequence of accumulating negativity, all resulting in a firmly acquired and yet fictitious belief that they are simply not destined to do this. They see the reduced ability to focus on the positives of living as a confirmation of their failure.
“Do you want to get better?”
This is the worst offender, and typically the most hurtful one. Yes, the statement isn’t intentionally used to inflict any damage; but it is an inevitability, with potentially disastrous results. It implies that someone suffering is actively trying to avoid getting better; embracing sickness, potentially through disinterest or laziness.
Negativity overwhelms the world we live in, despite the unquestionable beauty of our big, blue planet. It is essential to bring positivity into the life of someone who appears to be constantly engulfed by a cloud of negatives. Upon reading this however, you may be wondering whether you would be better off not saying anything. You may question your value in terms of support. There is no miracle cure for psychiatric illness, after all. However, there are several positive approaches that you can take. In my next article in two weeks time, I will go into these in more detail.