Mental illness literally is, by definition, all in your head. These types of illnesses cannot be seen — so on the outside, people may look totally fine yet feel terrible mentally and/or emotionally on the inside. When someone opens up to you about their mental illness, it’s okay if you don’t know what to say.
When You Don’t Know What To Say
People sometimes get so uncomfortable about not knowing what to say, that they make things worse by offering solutions or unsolicited advice that dismiss the mentally ill person’s pain by trying to “fix them”. The thing is, we don’t need to fix anybody. Instead, the happiest thing to do when someone opens up about their mental illness happens to also be one of the simplest: love one another.
Here are a few ideas for what to say to alleviate the suffering of a mentally ill person:
“That sounds rough, would you like to talk about it?”
When you acknowledge that someones difficult time is truly not easy, it can be very reassuring. Having an outside perspective that validates our own view is greatly comforting. You’d be surprised how very healing it can be to have someone who genuinely cares to listen without trying to change things. Making a suggestion to try to fix things can feel insulting to a person who is mentally ill, because it sends a message that they have a choice in the matter. But if they had a choice, why would they choose this? Well-meaning individuals, not wanting to bring undue stress, can safely bring relief by showing their support and having the person talk more about it…
“I don’t fully understand, but I’m here for you.”
It’s ok to not get it. All that is required is for you to just try to empathize. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We may not fully comprehend all their feelings or everything they are going through, but when we see or get told that someone is having a hard time with their mental health — we can focus on relating to the their frustration with the situation. Or the sadness that comes from going through something out of our control. No one may ever truly get what they’re going through unless they have also gone through it. But you can still be be there for them and help to get them out of their head by doing something active or just listening as they talk.
“How can I help?”
Simply knowing that someone cares enough to offer help can sometimes be the most helpful thing one can do. It’s not so much about finding something to do that will help, as it is about being of service. It’s okay to even repeat these words multiple times throughout a conversation – you might feel like a broken record at first, but until they give you an answer, keep offering. Sometimes people get embarrassed to ask for help, even though they recognize they need some. When we continually offer our help, opportunities are created for that person to accept when it’s not as scary for them to speak up. We just don’t always know when that will be, so we stay consistent until they tell us they need otherwise.