Bipolar Lifestyles

The most important thing to know about mentally ill people is that we need your patience; compassion; empathy; acceptance; and encouragement – not indifference; prejudice; criticism; rejection; or intolerance.

Things you say to a person struggling with a mental illness can profoundly affect them. Words can cut through us like a red-hot scalpel, which can trigger a worse episode, self-injury, or even suicide. We beat ourselves up enough; we do not need others, especially ones who claim to care about us, to do it too.

Sensitivity and consideration go a long way when talking with a person with mental illness. Unfortunately, people often ignore, insult, or ridicule us. Oftentimes, it is unintentional and committed without malice, but that does not make it any less shameful, upsetting, or hurtful.

The following are SOME of the worst things you can say to us during an episode. Granted, a few of the following statements have been helpful to some. However, we often perceive these statements as having negative overtones; which diminishes any potential benefits the statement(s) may have had. Clichés, platitudes, and banalities do not cure mental illness. In fact, they tend to make us feel worse.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Ignorance
• ‘You can will yourself better.’
• ‘I think this is your way of punishing me.’
• ‘It’s your own fault.’
• ‘I just want to make you feel better.’
• ‘It’s all in your head.’
• ‘You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.’
• ‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’
• ‘You could feel better if you wanted to.’
• ‘Why are you making yourself miserable?’
• ‘You don’t need all those medications.’
• ‘Why do you hurt yourself?’
• ‘There’s no such thing as mental illness.’
• ‘You must not be living right.’
• ‘What do I have to do to make you feel better?’
• ‘You’re just being lazy.’
• ‘You don’t want to be happy.’
• ‘If you were right with God this wouldn’t be happening to you.’
• ‘You would feel better if you went to church.’
• ‘If you loved me, you wouldn’t act this way.’
• ‘You could change it if you really want to.’
• ‘If you won’t change for you, do it for…’
• ‘You are what you think you are.’
• ‘There’s nothing wrong with you.’
• ‘You do it to yourself.’
• ‘You must want to be unhappy.’
• ‘You just want pity.’
• ‘What’s your problem?’
• ‘Happiness is a choice.’
• ‘You just want attention.’
• ‘You don’t ‘look’ depressed.’
• ‘Have you got PMS?’
• ‘You’d feel better if you would stop going to see all these shrinks and throw away those pills.’

Condescending or Patronizing
• ‘Have you been praying?’
• ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger.’
• ‘Look at the sunny side of life and make the best of it.’
• ‘You’ll be a better person because of it.’
• ‘Your problem is…’
• ‘You’d feel better if you…’
• ‘Did you forget to take your meds?’
• ‘We all have battles.’
• ‘We have to get together some time soon.’ (If you don’t mean it)
• ‘Everyone feels sad sometimes.’
• ‘Nothing is wrong with you.’
• ‘Smile and the world smiles with you; cry, and you cry alone.’
• ‘You can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it.’
• ‘I know how you feel.’
• ‘Things could always get worse.’
• ‘It’s not really that bad.’
• ‘What do you have to feel down about?’
• ‘You need therapy.’
• ‘Who ever said life is fair?’
• ‘Are you trying to be a martyr?’
• ‘If you turn to Jesus he will make you feel better.’
• ‘You know there comes a time in your life, when you just have to sit down and decide what is important to you.’
• ‘You just need to take care of yourself.’
• ‘You’re wasting your life. You have so much potential.’
• ‘Your life can’t be THAT bad.’
• ‘You’d feel better if you lost some weight.’
• ‘My life isn’t perfect either.’
• ‘Get control over yourself.’
• ‘You just need a swift kick in the butt.’
• ‘You can’t let the past bother you. You have to let it go.’
• ‘You need to grow up.’
• ‘You’re only hurting yourself.’
• ‘We all have our crosses to bear.’
• ‘I thought you were stronger than that.’

‘Good’ Advice and Attempted Motivation
• ‘Look on the bright side…’
• ‘You really should get out more.’
• ‘Snap out of it!’
• ‘What you really need to do is…’
• ‘Pull yourself up by the bootstraps.’
• ‘Cheer up!’
• ‘Hang in there. Everything will be okay.’
• ‘Don’t give up.’
• ‘It’s not THAT bad. It could always get worse.’
• ‘Quit feeling sorry for yourself.’
• ‘Pull yourself together.’
• ‘Stop wallowing in it.’
• ‘You really need to get a job. It would do you good.’
• ‘Get over it. Shit happens.’
• “You’d feel better if you would stop being such a perfectionist.’
• ‘We all go through times like this.’
• ‘Stop worrying, it isn’t good for you.’
• ‘I can’t do it for you; you have to want to do it.’
• ‘Here’s my advice…’
• ‘You think you’ve got problems…’
• ‘The Lord doesn’t give us more than we can handle.’ (This is B.S. – if it were true then there would not be any suicides.)
• ‘You need to get off your ass and do something about it.’
• ‘You have to face life head-on.’
• ‘Aren’t you a writer? Well, just think of all the good material you’re getting out of this.’
• ‘Stop hiding from your problems. It will not make them go away.’
• ‘If you don’t snap out of this you will end up all alone.’
• ‘Eventually, you’ll have to face the world.’
• ‘You’re too hard on yourself.’
• ‘You’re your own worst enemy.’
• ‘You just have to get on with things.’
• ‘You have to stop being this way.’
• ‘You’re ruining your life. You have to do something about it.’
• ‘You can’t hide forever.’
• ‘Go out and have a good time.’
• ‘This too shall pass.’
• ‘Make up your mind to be happy.’
• ‘Lighten up. You take things too seriously.’
• ‘There are a lot of people worse off than you.’
• ‘You have it so good – why are you miserable?’
• ‘Just don’t think about it.’
• ‘Shit or get off the pot.’
• ‘Just push yourself a little harder.’
• ‘It’s a beautiful day!’
• ‘You need a hobby.’
• ‘Everything happens for a reason.’

Cruel or Otherwise Insulting
• ‘You’re just trying to make people feel sorry for you.’
• ‘Everyone has problems, what makes you so special?’
• ‘You’re crazy.’
• ‘Deal with it.’
• ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself and get it over with?’
• ‘It serves you right.’
• ‘What’s wrong with you?’
• ‘You’re such a drama queen.’
• ‘You are weak.’
• ‘Boo hoo… nobody cares about your problems.’
• ‘I can’t stand to see you like this. You need to get over it.’
• ‘Freak!’
• ‘You’re a real downer.’
• ‘Stop whining.’
• ‘You only care about yourself.’
• ‘If you’re not careful the men in the little white coats will be coming for you.’
• ‘You deserve it.’
• ‘You’re dragging me down with you.’
• ‘You are an embarrassment to this family.’
• ‘Have you ever been in a nuthouse?’
• ‘Why can’t you be normal?’
• ‘And you wonder why you don’t have any friends.’
• ‘You’re an idiot.’
• ‘You’ve got issues.’
• ‘Are you a psycho?’
• ‘Stop being so dramatic.’
• ‘You’re making me miserable.’
• ‘Why are you doing this to me? I have enough to deal with.’
• ‘Geez, after talking to you I want to kill myself.’
• ‘I can’t put up with you anymore.’
• ‘I wish you would act normal.’
• ‘You’re screwed in the head.’
• ‘Stop pretending something is wrong with you.’
• ‘You’re so self-absorbed.’
• ‘You don’t deserve to be happy.’
• ‘You’re just using it as an excuse.’
• ‘Stop acting like a bitch.’

To top it off…
The one that really gets my panties in a twist is: ‘Yeah, I know how you feel, but that’s nothing…’ (Cue cock-and-bull story about something ‘so much worse.’) People usually say something like that with good intentions; they want to encourage us and show us that our life is not as bad as we think and that it could be worse.

However, the fact of the matter is when we are depressed, manic, or whatever, it is right then, not in the past. When we are going through it, we do NOT care if something worse happened to another person. It does not make what we are going through any less painful and it does not help us handle it ‘better’.

In all honesty, it makes us feel like you think what we are going through is unimportant and we should dismiss it because so-and-so had it so much worse. Big freakin’ deal, it is not a competition, and even if it was, who wants the ‘I’ve-had-the-worst-life’ medal? Nobody that I know or have known would to be stuck with that title.

Nevertheless, at the time it does tend to feel like it could not possibly get any worse. Suicide truly becomes a feasible option when we are drowning in hopelessness and despair. The goal is to keep it from becoming a solution and to do that we need people around us that care and show support without shaming or judging us.

by Jennifer Steele


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2 Comments for this entry

  • Keisha says:

    Hello Jennifer.

    I have bipolar disorder and a lot times, people have told me some of the stuff in your list. I just wonder, now that you have labelled those items as DON’Ts, what can one actually say to people like me when we’re having an episode? Is there ANYTHING that other people can say that won’t merit a negative feedback?

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