Mental health – what to say… or not

As you may know, anxiety, and more broadly mental health are topics of importance to me. In particular when it comes to mental health in the workplace, I feel that the subjects are as yet not discussed enough, whilst seeing an increasing number of articles and studies on how many people are be burning out.

I recently reached out on my social networks to ask what you’d be interested in hearing about and the response was beyond expectations! Thanks to your answers, I now have many more ideas and topics to cover for the rest of the year.

One of the first I wanted to address was “What to say” or “What not to say” to someone who is suffering from a mental health disorder. This is a great question, so without further ado, here are my top 3 things to say and not say to your colleague/friend/family member/loved one.

What not to say

  1. Everyone feels a bit [insert emotion here] sometimes… This can be adapted to “sad, down, stressed, nervous” and whatever else someone might come up with. The fact is, by saying this you’re doing two things: making light of the person’s condition, and showing you don’t understand much about mental health. People do often feel sad, but sad is nothing to do with depressed. Try to understand where that person is coming from and assess whether it’s more serious than you might think.
  2. You just need to… pull it together/get over it/take a holiday… A holiday might indeed help but ultimately it’s not as simple as that. Someone suffering from a mental health disorder, probably means there is an underlying deeper issue they need help figuring it out. Don’t think this is something they can get over quickly, recognize it will take time.
  3. It’s not as bad as you think/it’s not that serious… The way someone feels about a specific situation is indeed subjective. Perhaps for someone more resilient or less sensitive, certain events may not cause stress or seem harmless. But to the person who is depressed or anxious, it is serious. The events are causing them distress. Don’t under estimate what counts as difficult workplace conditions, and don’t over estimate people’s ability to cope with them.

Instead, here are 3 things you might want to say to someone who has been brave enough to share what they’re going through with you.

  1. Thank you for telling me, that’s really brave!  It’s scary to get out there and tell people you have a mental health disorder. You’re worried they’ll think you’re “crazy” or find you less trustworthy, or quite simply not believe you… But talking about it is a way to recognize what’s happening, can help others feel more confident to open up (as mentioned in my first post here), and can mean you get help. The person who confides in you – especially in the workplace – has shown that they trust you and consider you an ally. Show them they did the right thing.
  2. What can I do to help? This may seem like a basic thing to say but the fact is, sometimes just taking a small task from someone’s to do list, giving them the opportunity to talk/vent/share their experiences, and just showing up for them, can alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. Knowing someone’s got your back makes a difference, particularly in the workplace, whether you make use of it or not.
  3. I’m sorry you feel this way. You may be thinking “why say sorry?” “does this mean we pity them”? I don’t believe this shows pity, I believe it’s acknowledging the way the other person feels which is very important. Acknowledging what they’re telling you means you recognize the reality of how they’re feeling, and it also shows empathy. Both of which I believe are important in these situations.

Of course there are many other things you can say and do to help someone. I once heard someone say “the worst advice you can give is advice”… So personally I like to share resources: books, websites, articles, podcasts… whatever I’ve found that’s helped me that someone else might be interested in.

What about you, what are the best or worst things you’ve heard when it comes to mental health?

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