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16 phrases you should never say to people with mental health issues

Here’s a slightly tongue in cheek post about how you can best help people with mental health problems…

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!)…

  1. ‘It’s all in your head’ – Well, err yes. Where else is it going to be?
  2. ‘You don’t look depressed’ – Sorry, I promise never to laugh so it’s easier for you to comprehend.
  3. ‘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!woman holding a smiley balloon
  4. ‘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.
  5. ‘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?!
  6. ‘Just forget about it’ – Right, so you’d say the same if I had a broken leg would you?
  7. ‘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’.
  8. ‘You’ve got a lot to be happy about’ – I’m fully aware of that.
  9. ‘Man up’ – What does that even mean? Is it more ‘manly’ to not have an illness or disability?
  10. ‘Stop focussing on the bad stuff’ – See point 3. Nobody wants to feel down or miserable. Trust me, it’s not fun.
  11. ‘You need to snap out of it’ – That would be a brilliant solution…so how do you suggest I do that?
  12. ‘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.
  13. ‘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.
  14. ‘You just worry too much’ – Yes I do, that’s called anxiety. What’s your answer?
  15. ‘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.
  16. ‘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.

achievement adult agreement arms

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.

Flaws and ceilings

Why am I selfish, rude, sarcastic and lazy?

You probably need to read this to understand…

Former Australian Rugby captain John Eales had the nickname ‘Nobody’, as in ‘Nobody’s perfect.”  As sporting nicknames go it’s wittier than most.  But I suspect if you delved far enough into Eales’s life you’d discover some less than perfect things.  Maybe he doesn’t put the toilet seat down, or perhaps he doesn’t wash his hands before cooking.  There’s bound to be a few chinks in the Eales halo because we all have flaws. It’s part of being a human.

I’ve got a whole host of flaws that carry varying degrees of annoyance.  Most of them annoy me as much as anybody else.  Some of them often lead me to think that I’m a bad person. But as I’ve delved deeper into my behaviour and my character traits I’ve realised that a lot of my ‘bad’ characteristics can be attributed to autism and associated mental health issues…

Sarcasm – A lot of autistic people struggle to understand sarcasm as they take everything literally.  I’m not in the boat. I use sarcasm all the time, which is far too much of the time.  It’s sometimes rude – especially when aimed at people I’m not close friends with, it’s boorish and it’s often inappropriate. It can be funny at times, I certainly don’t think it’s the lowest form of wit (That’ll be Mrs Brown’s Boys), but it’s not always a great look.

I know I do it and I often subsequently beat myself up about it. But I’ve come to realise that I use sarcasm as a coping mechanism.  If I’m feeling stressed or anxious (aka most of the time!) then sarcasm helps to make light of whatever situation I’m in. It makes me seem more confident and in control. If you can try and be funny then you can’t be feeling that stressed, right?

Selfishness – You see somebody falls over in the street or a friend is upset. You’d probably try and help.  Two years ago my dad died and my friends were superb in rallying round and helping through a very tough time. But would I have been the same were the positions reversed?  I’d like to think so, but I also know that I can’t definitely say that I would. I know from experience that I’m not always the first person to help out when someone’s in trouble or the first to show sympathy.  I often come across as uncaring.

So does this make me selfish? I used to think so and I hated myself for it. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all to do with my untypical way of processing information and reacting. Autistic people reach sensory overload more easily than neurotypical people, and at this point their ability to cope with situations diminishes. So instead of engaging with the situation, they become very inward in order to avoid it. Which can come across as selfish.

man doing boxing

Aggressive – No I don’t want to start a fight when I’m in a bad mood.  I’m smart enough to know I’d lose.  But when things don’t go my way or I hear things that don’t fit in with want I want I get agitated. This sometimes manifests in me wanting to remove myself from the situation, but if that’s not possible my responses become agitated and mildly confrontational.

That’s not to say that I’m wrong in my views (sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not). Where I go wrong is in the way that I project my point of view.  It’s essentially a minor form of a meltdown, caused by the way I process information and the impact it has on my temperament.

Laziness – Yes, I’m lazy a lot of the time. And no I can’t attribute it all to autism. But, in some cases, I’ve realised that it’s a huge factor. Again it comes done to mental overload. Certain things that you would do without thinking about – catching a train, cleaning the car, sitting in a meeting etc – often cause me to take up more headspace. As a consequence, I don’t have enough headspace for lots of other activities, plus I have a greater need than most to try and relax from the stresses of life. All of which can create the impression that I’m lazy.

Rudeness – We all have to sit through conversations we’re not interested in. I’m just not as good at faking interest as you. So who’s the rude person really?  The honest person or the one who pretends?  It’s probably neither of us, we just have different ways of dealing with the situation, but pretending to be interested is a more socially accepted method.

woman in red lipstick opening her mouth

 

There are many more flaws I have. I’d love to blame them all on autism and thus claim that I’m actually perfect! That’d be very disingenuous, but it is clear that having a neurodiverse brain can have a negative impact on your behaviour and how people perceive you.  That being said, plenty of autistic and non-autistic people are complete dicks, so you’re better off avoiding them!

Talking of other people, my next article will be on the thorny issue of – what not to say to people with mental health issues!

9 contradictions of Adult Autism

A short post about the contradictions of autism

The hardest part of writing about adult autism is explaining exactly what it feels like. I mean, as the word neurodiversity implies, the autistic brain doesn’t work in the same way as a neurotypical one. So trying to explain it is a tricky task. Well, this post will do absolutely nothing to rectify that problem!

Below are a series of paradoxical statements and contradictions – but they all apply to many autistic adults. Some of them apply to me, some don’t.  You can play along at home by guessing which do!

Autism brain

  1. I have to organise everything in my life BUT I regularly forget where things are
  2. I have some brilliantly creative ideas BUT I struggle with day to day reality
  3. I’m really caring, BUT I struggle to empathise
  4. There’s loads I want to say, BUT I struggle to communicate
  5. I want to be popular and sociable BUT I want to hide away from everyone
  6. I know an absurd amount of obscure facts BUT I forget basic stuff all the time
  7. I can hyperfocus on a few things BUT I struggle to focus on most things
  8. I can start hundreds of projects BUT struggle to finish any
  9. I am extremely intelligent BUT make simple mistakes

 

As clear as mud then! To use a cliche to sum up the whole situation –  it’s both a blessing and a curse.

What is clear is that explaining autism to neurotypical people is extremely difficult, so just think how hard it can be for autistic people to live with brains that function in that way.  To be both brilliant and useless, often at the same time, can be massively frustrating and depressing.  And that is definitely something that applies to me!