6 Phrases Mentally Ill People Are TIRED of Hearing
It's time to empower the mentally ill, not tear them down.
1. "It's all in your head."
Ah. I wager everyone alive has heard this one, whether from a well-meaning coworker or a confused friend faced with the irritable, messy, realness of your emotions: it's all in your head. A lot of times, it's meant in a supportive way—maybe what they mean is, "One day, you won't feel like this," or "things aren't as bad as they seem," or "it's not your fault—it's your brain."
It's all in your head. Thanks, I never would've thought of that! Being mentally ill has something to do with... my mentality? Wow, that's genius. Alert the scholars!
But really, who is this supposed to help? People are expected to "get over" their mental illnesses, as if they're a statement of personal character or willpower. No. They're illnesses. It's even in the name.
To be diagnosed with a disorder—any disorder—the disorder has to result in functional impairment, meaning it gets in the way of you living your life and taking care of yourself. It's not their fault, and even if it was, who fucking cares?
2. "Why are you depressed?"
Sometimes there is no "why." It's an incredibly complicated and not-at-all-casual question to ask someone why. Depression often manifests in an overwhelming sense of helplessness, as well as a profound sense of worthlessness, as in: "Why am I depressed? What do I have to be sad about? Everyone has it worse than me. I'm just weak."
Sometimes, there is no why. There only is. Depression isn't just being sad; in fact, sometimes depression can feel like nothing at all, a pervasive grayness or cloud (often accompanied by the ever-so-pleasant brain fog) that feels like trudging through some bland, opaque, chest-high liquid. That liquid's everywhere; on the way to the bathroom to take a shower, blocking the kitchen sink, firmly shutting and bolting the front door, filtering the sun from the windows.
Depression is a disease; its causes could be biological, environmental, or both, or neither. It could set in after the death of a loved one, or a stressful move; it could come up suddenly, or stay in the background, mild and silent, until one day it decides to rear up and make you its bitch.
3. "That isn't 'real' trauma."
The DSM-V defines a traumatic event as: "a direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury, or other threat to one's physical integrity; or witnessing an event that involves death, injury, or threat (...) to another person; or learning about an unexpected death or violence death, serious harm, or threat of death or injury experienced by a family member (...)."
However, trauma itself is more complicated and nuanced; emotional trauma, especially repeated over a long period of time—including childhood—can be as damaging to one's mental health as a single, physical event (even more so, and in different ways).
There is a difference between trauma and stress, and we shouldn't ignore that; certainly, distinctions between severity of trauma exist for a reason. However, people react differently to circumstances—something that isn't "traumatic" to you might permanently devastate someone else.
Take pet-related grief, for instance. Someone, having a good enough appreciation for dogs but no real connection with them, might think it's silly or extravagant for someone else to have a full-on funeral—coffin, flowers, reception, embalming, the fucking works—for their dog. But to the other person, it makes sense; it's in keeping with their level of emotional reaction.
Trauma comes in all forms. It isn't up to you to dismiss someone's pain because you can't personally understand the circumstances of it.
4. "It'll get better."
According to the CDC, nearly one in five U.S. adults can't afford medical care. I can't find a statistic for psychiatric care specifically, but it's more expensive and less readily available, and one in five Americans also suffer from mental illness.
Those living in rural, poor, or less-populated areas most likely have no access to sliding-scale, free, or low-cost clinics; those who are lucky enough to have insurance may have copays anywhere between $5 and $500 per session. Low-cost clinics rarely cater at all to the insured, even if the insured cannot afford their services. Considering the rising cost of living in the U.S. and the disparate rate of income, mental health is quickly becoming an expensive luxury. (And so is healthcare; people are dying from diabetes, a highly treatable and manageable disease, because they can't afford insulin—a relatively cheap drug to manufacture.)
Additionally, mental health care is extremely stigmatized in the U.S. People who live with abusive parents or conservative communities might not have access to treatment because they would be punished or ridiculed for seeking it out; minorities, whose healthcare costs are already higher, might have trouble as well; women are stigmatized as "hysterical" for seeking help; men are stereotyped as "weak" for seeking help.
Some people can't get help; some people can't get better; some people never will. Before saying, "it'll get better," try to make sure that's possible. Try to help, if you can, because mental illnesses aren't the types of diseases that go away on their own.
5. "Depression isn't serious; everyone gets sad sometimes."
Hold on, let me get really boring for a second. Here are the symptoms of depression (according to NIMH, and in accordance with the DSM):
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Moving or talking more slowly
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight changes
- Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment
Depression isn't just feeling "sad." Say it with me: "DEPRESSION ISN'T JUST FEELING SAD."
As well, depression is often comorbid (i.e., appearing in conjunction) with other mental disorders. (Here's a study on depression comorbidity.)
Restlessness. Insomnia. Brain fog and decreased cognition. Oversleeping. Fatigue. Physical aches and pains. All of these are common in, and indicative of, depression.
6. "I love you. Why are you still depressed/anxious/etc? What am I doing wrong?"
Having a boyfriend/girlfriend/significant other isn't a magic cure for mental illness.
You are not a bandaid for your partner's illness.
It's good to have support; people with support systems generally fare better when it comes to mental illness. But... you can't cure someone's illness simply by wishing it gone. Get them help.
National suicide prevention line: 1-800-273-8255
The Trevor project: 1-866-488-7386