This is a message for anyone who has ever had any kind of interaction with someone who suffers from a mental illness – so, every single one of you. Here are some things that I wish everyone knew about the way we talk about mental illness and those who have them. Please keep in mind that you may know someone without knowing their story, so regardless of who you are talking to, please keep these things in mind.
First of all, the language that we use when talking about mental illness can sometimes be harmful without us realizing it. Something that really gets me is when people say they have to “deal with me.” The problem with this word is that it makes being helped sound like some kind of burden. The word dealing implies an almost instant sense of negativity. It absolutely irks me and makes me want to scream. When someone uses this term with me, I almost immediately feel like a burden to them.
Feeling like a burden is really big problem for me personally, as well as many people I know who suffer from mental illness.
It is always accompanied by a huge amount of guilt, whether we truly are a burden or not. By you using this word, you are telling us that we are indeed burdening you, which is something that we already feared and you have just confirmed.
So this brings me to:
What words could we use instead?
One saying that I like to use with is “working with.” As soon as you say it, it sounds like you are now a team, united for a similar outcome. Both parties are willing to put work in and work towards a goal. That person who needs you is no longer standing alone – they have an ally. Having someone by your side makes everything seem easier, since you are no longer doing it alone. For example, you could say, “I am working with Sara to help with her depression” as opposed to “I have been dealing with Sara and her depression.” Sounds better doesn’t it?
Replacing the word dealing with the word helping is also good. Everyone needs help sometimes, and so to use a word that we use every day in all kinds of situations, it seems to help remove some of the stigma of the burden of mental illness. The word helping can be used in the place of dealing with in almost every possible situation so the switch should be easy!
All of this is just a reminder, to please choose your words wisely and keep in mind that you never really know who might be suffering internally. If you are unsure of what may or may not be acceptable ways to approach or talk about mental health, asking someone what they feel comfortable with is always a good plan. Everyone interprets things differently and may or may not be hurt by some of the things that I am. Just keep in mind that the power of positivity is immense, and that the kinder you speak to others, the kinder they will speak to themselves.