When someone you know is struggling with mental illness, you may want to show your concern and support by offering advice or sharing wisdom. However, the impact of your message is only as good as the words you use. Being mindful of what you say and how your words can affect them is also an important part of showing your support.

The Right Things to Say

Aside from being tactful, remember to be empathetic. Take cues from them and respond accordingly. If you are unsure about how to start the conversation, here are some statements that you can say to someone with a mental illness:

  • I’m sorry you feel that way. Just know that I’m here for you. As your loved one deals with their mental illness, it’s important to let them know that their emotions are valid. Also, let them know that they are not alone and they can rely on you for support whenever they need it. 
  • Do you want to talk about it? Even if you don’t experience what they are going through, you can still support your loved ones. When talking to them, give them the option to open up on their own and allow them to discuss topics they feel comfortable with. Also, listen to them without judgment.
  • How can I help? By offering your support, you can show your loved ones you care for their well-being while allowing them to make their own choice about accepting your help. You can take care of simple tasks like chores and errands. For example, you can help them do their grocery shopping or handle their laundry.
  • That seems difficult to bear. What are you doing to cope? They can find comfort when you acknowledge their feelings. It also lets your loved ones know that you are attentive to their needs. By asking them how they are coping, you also send a message that you want to help them overcome their challenges. 
  • If you want, I can accompany you somewhere quiet. In case they are feeling overwhelmed, it’s a good idea to suggest a place where they can take a break or do grounding exercises without getting distracted. For example, you can ask them if they want to go for a walk or find a calm space. 
  • Are you asking for my perspective or do you prefer I listen? It’s always good to clarify the kind of support they want to get. This way, you can give them the assistance they are looking for at the moment and not make them feel like you are judging them. If they want your perspective on a topic, always phrase it as how you would feel or react in the same situation. Use “I” statements instead of advising them.
  • I’m proud of you for getting help. Seeking the support of a healthcare professional is a big step for someone with mental illness. When you validate their efforts to get better, it can be an added motivation. Saying such encouraging words for someone in rehab or therapy can make them feel inspired to keep working on their treatments. 

Statements You Need to Avoid

For your loved ones struggling with their mental health, it may be difficult to open up and talk about what they are going through. Often, they may worry about being judged even if you have close personal relationships with them. So, it’s just as important to avoid responses or comments that will make them feel bad about showing their vulnerability.

  • I understand how you feel and have a similar experience. Although your intention may be to empathize by relating to how they are feeling, it can imply that you are dismissing your loved ones’ symptoms and emotions. Even if you have a similar mental health disorder, you shouldn’t compare what they are going through with yours because every condition is unique.
  • Cheer up! It will be okay. Having a mental illness like depression is different from feeling sad. It is a condition that has complex causes and factors. So, the solution may not be as simple as telling them to lighten up. 
  • You don’t look like someone who is depressed. A person’s physical appearance doesn’t always reflect what they are feeling internally. Most people with anxiety and depression try hard to hide their emotions. It can take a lot of courage to talk about their pains, and this kind of remark can be discouraging. Also, it can make them doubt themselves and affect their decision to seek treatment.
  • You can’t always think about yourself. At times, it may seem like a person with depression or anxiety is preoccupied with their own thoughts. But this doesn’t mean they don’t care about other people. When you imply that they are acting selfishly, it can aggravate feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Have you tried practicing yoga or meditating? I heard they are very helpful. A common misconception about mental health is how yoga and meditation can cure any condition. Although these wellness practices are used to supplement the treatment of people with depression and anxiety, they still need to be partnered with other therapies or medication.

It can be hard to find the right words to say to someone who has a mental health problem. Even if you only want to be helpful, you can end up giving unsolicited advice. If you really don’t know how to respond to a loved one with anxiety or depression, be honest about it and tell them you don’t know what to say to them. Telling the truth and being compassionate are the best ways you can support anyone dealing with mental health conditions.