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Mind your word when someone is in the blues

Mind your word when someone is in the blues

Here are a few things one should avoid saying to someone with mental health issues – and why.
 mental health, mental health issues, struggling with mental health,
Representational Image | Shutterstock

It can be difficult to know what to say when someone close to us is going through a mentally or emotionally traumatic time. Despite our best efforts, certain things that we may say could cause them more harm than good.  Happiest Health consulted with experts to bring out what are the most common things that should never be uttered; as well as the most appropriate words that comfort and support the person who is struggling mentally. 

In 2017, the husband of Bengaluru-based homemaker Varsha Singh (name changed) was diagnosed with clinical depression. The 42-year-old recalls that her husband had always been anxious about the future and eventually, this worry spiralled into a cycle of anxiety, panic attacks and depression. The couple struggled to cope after he lost interest in daily activities such as working, walking, eating and socialising. Varsha Singh says she was unable to make him take part in these activities. 

She tried to convince him that he was overthinking and should try taking things lightly. To her surprise, instead of pacifying him, her efforts aggravated his worries. “Later I realised I just discussed the problem. What was lost in my conversation was a deeper understanding of what was he was going through,” she says. 

Dr Spandan Thakkar, a psychiatrist at the Mood and Mind Clinic in Ahmedabad, says that anyone showing signs of mental issues is indicating that they are already stressed. In such cases, no one can make them see the situation differently. 

His advice -“We should just allow them to speak, and never give any suggestions to them.” 

Dr Thakkar adds,Their thoughts are not in their control. If we give them new suggestions, they are not going to work.” 

He suggests giving them healing time, being empathetic with them, and making them feel that you are there to understand them. 

Non-verbal communication helps  

People living with mental health concerns may struggle to maintain a routine. Their patterns of eating, sleeping and the work environment get affected. “If we direct them to do something, they will not do it. So we have to be there with them and support them in doing certain activities. It will help,” says Dr Thakkar.  

Varsha Singh says she used to advise her husband to practise meditation, yoga, and some form of physical activity, thinking it would reduce his stress. Not only was he not interested in them, he would get angry and say these activities were a waste of time. “He wanted someone to offer him a solution to his stress, which we neither understood nor provided.” 

She says that while yoga and meditation helped to an extent in coping with stress, they alone cannot solve the issue. The best solution, she says, may come from a good psychologist who can get a deeper understanding of a troubled mind. 

With such people, Dr Thakkar says one should never talk about oneself. “Don’t tell them that you, too, have experienced a similar crisis, it [the conversation] will be over. Your reaction to a situation will be different from theirs.”  

Taking those practical steps 

According to him, following a routine with them may make them feel stable and less distressed. 

  • Offer to go for walks with them. 
  • Make them feel supported.  
  • If possible, engage them in activities they enjoy doing together. 
  • Do not advise them to change their ways or lives completely. 
  • Do not blame them
  • Do not force them to do something new. This might make them feel they are constantly doing something wrong. 
  • Encourage them to express their emotions if they feel ready to do so. Allowing them a space to vent their feeling can reduce their distress. 

Singh claims that, on the advice of the psychiatrist, she started walking with her husband in the mornings and involving him in all the household activities which he used to enjoy earlier. It really helped him in finding his way back to things he had liked to do earlier.  

The `never-say’ words  

According to Rakshitha Ghadge, psychologist at YourDOST, an online counselling and emotional wellness coach in Bengaluru, if someone has mental health related issues, using the right words is important. She suggests avoiding the following points while conversing. 

  • `Afflicted by mental illness’, `suffers from mental illness’ or `is a victim of mental illness’. Instead, she recommends using `living with a mental illness’. Having a mental health diagnosis is not a negative thing. “Suffering implies that someone is unwell and unhappy.” 
  • `I went through the same thing when I…’ 

One may be trying to be empathetic by saying they have been in pain to. But it is more helpful to simply be a witness to their pain and convince them that you are there for them.  

  • `Am I not enough for you?’ 

It may sound like one is reminding them of all the good they have in their life, and how many people care about them. But it could only add to their guilt and distress.

  • `But you don’t look sick.’ 

 We often assume that if someone is going through a hard time, it will be evident in the way they dress or in their general demeanour. But this is not always true and often adds to the stigma around mental health.  

  • ‘Many people have it much worse than you.’ 

Remarks like this induce one’s loved one to compare oneself with others and feel belittled. Instead,  one should encourage them to validate their own needs and wants. 

Ghadge also suggests a few handy lines that one can say:  

  • `Do you want to talk about it? I’m always here for you.’ 

Being there for another person means simply listening to them without offering advices or solutions. It offers them hope, comfort and a way to explore their fears and anxieties. 

  • `What can I do to help?’ 

Most of the time people who reach out do not want solutions. Ask them how they dealt with similar problems in the past.   

  • `That sounds really difficult. How are you coping?’ 

Encouraging them to think about their personal resources helps them to feel more in control. It helps in shifting their focus to an action and encourages them to find a way to cope with things. 

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