As a peer, friend or loved one with concerns for someone close to you with a mental health condition, it can be challenging to try and approach them about it, especially when you’re unsure as to how serious their condition may be.
You want to help them get through it, but you’re not sure what to do or say. What you say could be misinterpreted and while some things are better left unsaid, in these scenarios it may also do more harm than good.
To help students, here’s a guide on things you should NOT say to someone with a mental illness.
“Everyone is a little down sometimes. It’s normal.”
While it is true that we all feel down and moody sometimes, mental illness is a whole different thing. It may be condescending to say this to someone, especially when what they need is to seek help and we are definitely not helping if we tell them what they’re feeling is normal.
“Things could be worse,” or “There are others having it worse than you.”
Everyone fights different battles in life. Some are more severe than others. But saying this to someone doesn’t make anything easier and is just not helpful at all. Just because someone else’s problems are more serious than theirs, doesn’t mean it should be easier for them to handle it.
“Snap out of it.”
It might be easy to say this to someone who’s just having a bad day at work, but telling a person with a mental disorder to “let it go” or “cheer up” only reinforces the one suffering that this condition should be ignored and endured. This could be very harmful to the person over time. If they could snap out of it, they would.
“Try drinking chamomile tea”
Now imagine you’ve been stressing about something the whole day and you turn to your friend for support. And all they could say is, “It’s gonna be fine. Drink some tea and go to sleep”.
While it might offer temporary relief to a hectic and stressful mind, mental illness goes way beyond that. It is also insensitive to assume that mental illness could be cured by a single cup of soothing tea or some shut eye.
“It’s all in your head”
Mental illness is technically ‘in the head’, but it is not imaginary or something that individuals choose to have. Saying this could easily make things worse for them. Plus, physical symptoms such as sleep deprivation, muscle pains or weight change can also be brought on by a mental health condition, which makes saying they’re just over-thinking or imagining it irrelevant.
It is important to let those around you who are suffering from mental disorders know that they don’t have to go through it alone. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just be there for them. Don’t make assumptions and be ready to listen when they are prepared to talk. Offer them support where you can without being judgemental and offer plenty of positive energy and love so they don’t feel like they are fighting this battle alone. It is vital to recognise the symptoms quickly and make sure help or treatment is given to those experiencing it.
If you wish to know more about how you can offer guidance as a friend, refer to our peer support guide for students who want to know how to better engage on these issues with friends with mental illnesses.
Meld wishes to build a culture where mental health issues can be freely discussed and encourage all international students to seek assistance and advice, professional or personal, if they are experiencing difficulties that may be affecting their mental health.
Students who are affected by mental health issues or those who know someone who is can seek help through hotlines such as Lifeline at 13 11 14, beyondblue at 1300 22 4636, and Headspace at 1800 650 980.
For LGBTQ individuals who have specific needs, contact QLife at 1800 184 527.
Students may also seek help from in-house university counsellors or helplines.