I have a complex relationship with my personality. Sometimes I can meditate and be in Zen. While at other times, I struggle to find a resting moment. Some mornings the golds aren’t too bold, while others, the dawn light seems too bright.

I live with the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder. And some sporadic bursts of anger. And it’s difficult.

I understand that it’s way more difficult to say the right words than not saying the bad words. While you had the best intentions in the world, some good suggestions can do more harm than good.

The question I ask myself is, why? Why, human’s companion since inception, quenches all the curiosity.

The curiosity to ask why to the strange gazes when I act “weird” or my personality goes poles apart?

Why do they react absurdly when they see someone living with a mental illness?

Why do they not say comforting things rather speak things which were left better unsaid?

Because I never told them. I never stood up for myself and my mental health disorder. I never said back, “No, this is not the way you talk!”

If I had, they would have known. Maybe. Maybe not. So, here’s a guide for you to explain your mental health disorder.

Wait. First, let’s see what NOT to say to those living with mental health disorders or with the symptoms of mental health issues.

The list does not count all the hurtful things that people, intentionally or unintentionally, say, but it’ll give you a clue.

Refrain and check yourself when these hit your thoughts:

It’s all in your head

Biologically, it does happen inside our brain, but they are but no means imaginary! Not only this statement trivializes the issue at hand, but it also tends to neglect the physical symptoms of mental health disorders.

You’re making it worse

When someone shares their emotional and psychological problems, don’t say that they are a cry baby and that they are complaining, which will not make things right.

They have come to you for support and understanding. By saying, “you’re making it worse,” you will end up undermining their confidence and hurt their feelings too.

Things could have been worse

“So-and-so lost her job, was diagnosed with cancer, and her dog was hit by a car. So, don’t say you are sad. Things could’ve been way worse.”

By comparing someone’s experiences to others, you are belittling their problems. For someone who is not suffering from a mental health issue, it can be difficult to understand that many times depression, and anxiety does not require a trigger. It can induce feelings of guilt too.

But you don’t look like you have a problem

If a person is living with a mental health disorder, they are not meant to look devastated. You are just being ignorant with your words. There’s no face of depression, or insomnia, or schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. There is no way to tell what someone is fighting other than engaging in a simple (and empathetic) conversation.

Try some herbal tea

Friendly suggestions like “get busy”, or “get some action”, “or try chamomile tea” are thoughtful gestures to show that we care and want to help. Unfortunately, the fact is chamomile tea or getting easy can’t just cut the experience when you are having a meltdown or an anxiety attack.

Everyone is down these days. It’s normal!

It’s true that everyone might feel a little low or down at one point or the other or have experienced mood swings; it is not the same as having a mental health disorder. If someone is being told constantly that “It’s normal to feel this way”, they are less likely to seek help which might make things worse for them.

This too shall pass

True but inconsiderate? Everyone is different, and everyone heals at their own pace. So, we must not tell someone that all they need is time or that their mental illness will pass on its way.

While it does take time, for some, it also takes medication and professional help to heal, a safe and non-judgemental space, or a support group to get better.

It’s God’s wish and a part of his plan

Comments like these are not very helpful. Instead, they might make us feel helpless. Everyone has their own beliefs.

Remember that the other person might not have spiritual beliefs. Or even if they do, they are struggling with innumerable emotions like they are being punished for something they did or worried that they are being put to the test by God. This may backfire and lead them away from their faith and belief.

Just try to feel positive

The wave of optimism in the last few months has gone toxic. Saying that the person can feel better with a mere mood adjustment seems unrealistic. Mental health disorders are serious and need matching professional help and treatment.

Instead, acknowledging that things are bad right now may make more sense because it allows room to acknowledge and accept other emotions.

Now coming onto the “What should I say?” question. Well, we can have a curated guide with just the right statements to offer to someone who is living with a mental health issue, but we can definitely work out some positive, considerate, and empathetic things to say; as follows:

“Thank you for telling me. You are so strong to open up about this, and trust me with this. I am proud of you!”

“Talk to me. I’m listening.”

“Would you like to talk about what you’re going through? If not, who are you comfortable talking to?”

“Have you spoken to your doctor or therapist about how you are feeling?”

“I am proud of you for getting the support you need.”

“What can I do to help? Or Can I not? But know that I am here for you anytime you need me.”

“This must be hard for you, but you’re going to get through it. Can I help you in any way?”

“I am there for you; you’re not alone in this. We will figure it out together”

“You are important to me, and I want you to know that I will be there for you anytime you need me.”

“I love you.”

I cannot put it in simpler words, but listening helps. Ensure that you have maintained the same tone of speech that you used to have while conversing with the person, let them know that they are the same people and that your relationship is stable, strong, and important.

Talk to them the way you would have wanted to if you were in their shoes. Let’s practice empathy; it works wonders.