Things you shouldn’t say to someone with mental health struggles during the holidays

It’s that time of year again: the  holidays. Depending on your state of mind, this can be the best time of the year, or one of the worst. During the holidays, people are expected to spend time with their loved ones, which can be great for most people, but really difficult for people who are dealing with mental health issues — especially when those loved ones try to help but accidentally make things worse. It can be very difficult to know what to do or say when someone you love is having a hard time (no matter what the reason they are suffering). I understand that everyone just wants to help, but speaking from experience, many things people do or say in an effort to make things better can actually make them a little bit worse.

Below are some things that I personally find unhelpful to hear when it comes to my mental health, along with some better alternatives to put to use with your loved ones this holiday season.

“Other people have it worse.”

I know you’re trying to get me to think of the bigger picture, but to be honest, when I was at my low point, I felt guilty for feeling so sad because I knew, logically that other people had it worse. I felt like I didn’t have the right to feel the way I was feeling and being reminded that my privileged self didn’t have the right to mope only made me feel more guilty. Just because some people have greater pain doesn’t mean my pain doesn’t hurt. A preferred alternative would be something along the lines of, “It sucks that those things happened to you” or “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way.” All I wanted was validation and to know that I wasn’t being overemotional or making a mountain out of a mole hill.

“Look on the bright side,” or, “You just want to complain.”

These seem different, but I feel like they’re really just different sides of the same coin. Sometimes complaining about everything wrong in my little world made me feel so much better. Sometimes I just didn’t want to acknowledge the sun shining through my rain cloud. Sometimes I just needed to be bitter and disdainful. Something I like to do when a friend begins to vent to me is ask if they want advice or just need to rant. That usually keeps them from getting frustrated with my newfound cheery disposition when all they want to do is talk about how they’re feeling.

Also, a lot of people seem to like blaming someone’s mental state on their perspective on life. People tell you that you’re only so sad because you’re looking on the negative side of life, but that’s not always true. Especially when complex mental health issues are at play, people don’t always have the ability to choose to look at the good in a situation to fix their mood. If you have to tell someone that things aren’t as bad as they seem, acknowledge their feelings and be clear that you’re not invalidating them before you try to point out the good in the situation. A simple, “I know it doesn’t seem this way now, but things will get better” is a much better alternative.

“You’re too young to have [insert problem here].”

I really hate being told this. Sure, there may be far worse things ahead, but nothing is worse than telling someone who fears that things will never get better that they won’t. In all honesty a better alternative to this would be literally anything else. 

“I know what you’re going through…”

This one is tricky. Sometimes, you genuinely do understand and if that’s the case, this can be a beautiful bonding moment between two kindred souls. But if you really don’t have personal experience with the kind of mental health struggles a person is experiencing, trying to relate can backfire. If your loved one is struggling with clinical depression, a story about when you were sad after a breakup won’t resonate with them. But if you, too, have struggled with similar depression and come out on the other side, that’s totally worth relaying.

My best advice here is to listen to your loved one’s descriptions of their issues and make sure you’re confident that you really can relate before you say that you can.

“You shouldn’t be [doing something safe that makes you feel better]. My friend had [insert issue] and they made themselves better by a [insert fad remedy].”

Sorry, I have no time for your pseudo-science and personal anecdotes. Everyone is different and what worked for your friend is not guaranteed to work for me. It’s really annoying when everyone tries to cure you when you’re feeling depressed. It made me wonder if they wanted me to feel better because I was sad or because seeing me depressed made them uncomfortable. It always felt like the latter because they would offer awful tidbits of wisdom and then blame me when they didn’t help in the slightest. Again, I would advise you to ask. Let them vent. Let them rant. And then ask them if they would like to hear something that worked for your friend or if they would rather not.

The best thing you can do this holiday season, or really any time of the year, is listen to your loved ones when they discuss their mental health with you. Ask them if they want to talk about an issue they are struggling with and if they tell you they don’t, then you should respect that (unless you think they’re in immediate danger of harming themselves or others, in which case you should involve the appropriate professionals to help them). Be kind and loving. Listen. Try to understand and see their point of view. The holiday season can be very hard for some people, so the best thing we can do is try to make it a little easier for the people we love.

(Image via Shutterstock.)

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