If you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, it can be hard to know the correct way to talk to someone with one. However, saying the wrong thing can cause a lot of hurt and damage to a person. Everyone makes mistakes, and even the best of us slip up sometimes. When you do make a mistake by saying something insensitive to those with a mental illness, it’s important to recover and then educate yourself to limit the mistakes you make in the future.
People with a mental illness are regular people. Often times, you won’t be able to tell who has a mental illness and who doesn’t. It’s important to be aware of the correct terminology. Before you apologize and someone with a mental illness has to correct you, try to learn what can be offensive to prevent the situation from happening. You won’t be perfect, but it can help to create a healthy environment for someone who is being treated for a mental health problem. Here are a few things to remember, and how to recover when you catch yourself being insensitive:
Some words you think may be completely harmless can actually cause a wave of emotion in others. Words like ‘crazy’ or ‘bipolar‘ may be regular terms that you used to describe a behavior, but a mental illness is not a descriptor, it’s a medical definition. Take harmful words out of your vocabulary and recognize there’s a better word to describe what you’re experiencing. For example, if someone is bouncing back between multiple decisions, they are not bipolar, they are indecisive.
Also, it’s important to remember people with a mental illness are, first and foremost, people. Don’t say, ‘She is bipolar,’ but instead say, ‘She has bipolar.’ Regardless of their formal diagnosis, it’s something they have rather than something they are. Here are a few common phrases that can be hurtful to those with a mental illness:
- They’re psychotic (used to describe someone mad or angry)
- They’re bipolar (used to describe someone who changes their mind often)
- You’re crazy (used as a descriptor)
- She’s suffering from depression (used to describe someone diagnosed with depression)
- Did you forget to take your happy pills? (used to describe the lack of prescription medication, often poking fun at anxiety and/or depression medication)
If you make a mistake while talking about a mental illness and catch yourself in the moment, apologize for the hurtful thing you’ve said. Acknowledging you’ve made a mistake and didn’t mean it is important in helping the offended party recognize it wasn’t said maliciously.
If you don’t catch yourself saying something hurtful and someone else does, don’t get defensive. There’s nothing worse than hearing someone else get defensive when they are clearly in the wrong. Take it as a chance to apologize. Sometimes, the offended party will tell you the correct terms to use, which you should take to heart.
Walk Your Talk
After you’ve apologized and educated yourself to the best of your ability, you have to walk your talk. Don’t purposefully use hurtful terms. In addition to that, educate someone else on what is and what isn’t appropriate to say to someone who has a mental illness. By spreading the information you learn, you could help someone’s recovery process and prevent harm to an individual.
There will always be people who have mental illnesses that don’t open up about it. Many people have a mental illness and will never talk about it with their colleagues or close friends. It’s not your place to get someone to open up about their mental illness, but it’s also important to recognize anyone you talk to could have one. When you condone hurtful terms and phrases, it can impact your relationships, but also can hurt someone who may be struggling. Those who have mental illnesses need an ally, and educating yourself on what not to say is the first step in being one.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jess Carpenter. You can follow her journey on Instagram, TikTok, and on her website. You can visit Jess’ author page here and buy her new book here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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