And little did I know, but I was oblivious to the stigma I had faced for years.
While the vast majority of people have been supportive and kind, it's the harsh words and dismissive comments that often stay with us for longer.
Here’s a look at some of the things people have really said to me when I tried to talk to them about my mental health;
'We all feel like that from time to time, it will pass'
The context: I told someone I was feeling suicidal.
Why it’s wrong: This response refuses to acknowledge the very serious thoughts of suicidal ideation. It’s like saying my feelings and my urge to die was not important. It is so dangerous to ignore or shrug off any suicidal thoughts.
‘You’re okay. You’ll be fine.’
The context: I was scared and crying down the phone to a friend.
Why it’s wrong: Did I sound okay? I felt so far away from ‘fine’ at that point in time, and their shut down made me refuse to talk to anyone else about my low mood for weeks. If someone tries to start a conversation to you about their mental health, listen to them.
‘Were you an emo as a teenager?’
The context: I said I felt lonely, and that no one ever wanted to hang out with me.
Why it’s wrong: Where do I start? There is a terrible presumption that teenagers who look a certain way must be depressed. It’s horrible and offensive. I never would have identified myself as ‘emo’, but here I was being told I must have been if I was feeling lonely.
‘You’re attention seeking.’
The context: I said I was worried I might have Bipolar Personality Disorder.
Why it’s wrong: Any attempt by someone to reach out for help and question their mental health should be encouraged and supported. Mental illness isn’t fashionable, and those who try to self diagnose should be encouraged to seek professional help, not made to feel as if they made it up to gain notoriety.
‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself.’
The context: Honestly, I think I was just skulking around the place as I generally do.
Why it’s wrong: If there was a magic button to press so I would stop looking miserable, then don’t you think I’d press it? Faking a smile doesn’t come easy to me; so when I’m down I can’t really hide it. But depression is about so much more than feeling sorry for yourself.
‘You’re imagining it.’
The context: I thought somebody hated me; in fact I was sure I’d heard them call me ‘crazy’.
Why it’s wrong: Paranoia often accompanies a lot of different mental health issues. I remember thinking that people who looked at me when I was walking down the street hated me. I thought people knew I was worthless just by my presence, or lack thereof. But the other side of this is stigma. Stigma is alive and well, and I do still believe that I was called crazy because I remember distinctly hearing it!
‘Things could be worse.’
The context: I get this one a lot, in fact, I know I’ve also said it a few times too.
Why it’s wrong: No shit Sherlock. I actually spend most of my time worrying about what could go wrong and how much worse things could be. That comes with generalized anxiety. But knowing this doesn’t make my immediate feelings anymore muted. For a long time I felt so selfish for being depressed as I knew there were people who had it worse than I did. My mind continued to torture me irregardless.
Please think twice before dismissing someone's mental health. It takes a lot of courage for someone to begin the conversation and seek help. Don't be so quick to dismiss them.
And think before you speak. You can't take it back. Your words can be more damaging than you can ever imagine.