Autism isn’t a mental health issue, many autistic people are perfectly healthy mentally and physically. However, as I’ve discussed before, there is a strong correlation between autism and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. It’s great that more and more people have sympathy for that and want to help. If you’re one of those people then keep doing it, but be mindful of how you go about it.
Here to help you is my list of 16 things you should never say to people with mental health issues. (Oh and if you read my previous post you’ll know that sarcasm is one of my flaws!)…
- ‘It’s all in your head’ – Well, err yes. Where else is it going to be?
- ‘You don’t look depressed’ – Sorry, I promise never to laugh so it’s easier for you to comprehend.
- ‘Try and cheer up’ – Oh yeah, I never thought of that. There was me thinking that being miserable was the best way to go. Thanks for interrupting your MENSA application to put me right!
- ‘You could do with a drink’ – That’s probably true on most days regardless of my mental health, but that’s because I like beer! It doesn’t improve my mental health or solve anything. Please note: buy me a beer.
- ‘It could be worse’ – Undeniably true, but I’m not sure how that helps. Would thinking about a blind and deaf paraplegic with terminal cancer be somehow beneficial?!
- ‘Just forget about it’ – Right, so you’d say the same if I had a broken leg would you?
- ‘It’s just a bad day’ – Now, I DO sometimes try and tell myself this when I’m having a bad spell. Just as a way of reminding myself that I will have better times and it’s not permanent. But there is something a bit condescending about being told that a serious health issue is just a ‘bad day’.
- ‘You’ve got a lot to be happy about’ – I’m fully aware of that.
- ‘Man up’ – What does that even mean? Is it more ‘manly’ to not have an illness or disability?
- ‘Stop focussing on the bad stuff’ – See point 3. Nobody wants to feel down or miserable. Trust me, it’s not fun.
- ‘You need to snap out of it’ – That would be a brilliant solution…so how do you suggest I do that?
- ‘Keep yourself busy’ – I’ve tried this many a time. But the idea that giving your brain a distraction solves anything is just wrong; if I’m feeling low then it’s always there. And autism means that the ‘distraction’ is that something else to stress about.
- ‘But you always seem happy’ – See masking. Plus maybe I’m scared of what people will think if I show weakness. Or maybe I don’t want it to define me.
- ‘You just worry too much’ – Yes I do, that’s called anxiety. What’s your answer?
- ‘Don’t do anything stupid’ – I’m lucky in that I’ve never had suicidal thoughts, but plenty of depressed people frequently do. The idea that suicide or self-harm is ‘stupid’ is particularly unhelpful.
- ‘I never would have guessed’ – See point 13. Note to self: Do a blog on ‘high functioning’.
Of course, I’m talking personally and hopefully with a sprinkling of humour, but there is a serious underlying point. The overall message is that it’s great that people want to help and long may it continue. Just be careful to consider what you’re saying and how you’re offering to give help.
Consider the recipient of your words. Maybe they would benefit from hearing phrases like the 16 above. Maybe you need to adopt a softer approach, maybe you need to just be a soundboard, or perhaps you should just talk about something else completely and provide a welcome distraction.
My personal experience is those welcome distractions are just as valuable as advice. Escapism is great therapy and diverting some of my anxieties is priceless. Feeling a bit anxious about the result of a sports fixture is infinitely preferable to the majority of my worries.
So carry on offering sympathy and support, but make sure that it’s bespoke to the recipient of it.