Illnesses of all kinds bring stress upon the person who suffers them, including mental illness. Although those stresses are not as easily (if at all) preventable, other stresses can be prevented or reduced. Not being insulting is one way to easily reduce stress; for both the person who would be doing the insulting, and for the person being insulted. For the former, stress is reduced by not being insulting simply because there is little to no concern about an angry confrontation about whatever was said or done. The cause of reduction of stress for the latter is much more obvious; they simply aren’t riled up. (Which is not to say they won’t be riled up about something else – but this particular upset is avoidable.)
As you likely know, nearly everyone has a sensitive topic. It may be about an addiction, a family member, or an illness – the possibilities are endless. Although the topic of mental illness probably isn’t sensitive for everyone who has or knows someone suffering from it, there are still some things to avoid. Avoiding certain phrases or behaviors may keep you from insulting someone, and help you keep a friend. Also, it’s often the polite thing to do.
What Not to Say (so you’re not insulting someone with a mental illness):
- Retarded (this includes the hand signal)
- I think this one is common sense – using this word as a slur against someone you think is acting stupid is insulting to the people who actually are mentally retarded and those who love them. Remember, those who suffer mental retardation cannot help it.
- Calling someone (including yourself) mentally ill when you or they are not actually such: I.E. I’m [she/he’s] so bipolar!
- Referring to yourself (or others) as mentally ill without cause is belittling someone that actually has the illness. They are actually suffering and you are practically making fun of their suffering. Not cool.
After You Are Told (don’t):
- Freak out (upon learning about their illness)
- Okay, breathe. I know you just learned something scary – but freaking out is just going to make that person feel awful about themselves and question ever having told you. Try to stay calm and if you have to leave, do so nicely (but please not immediately after they tell you – this is a burden for them and it takes a lot to let anyone in).
- Accuse person of being attention seeking (when it’s not true)
- Ouch. It is really insulting when someone uses this accusation to dismiss you. Yes, there are attention seeking people out there. However, being diagnosed as mentally ill does NOT equate to being attention seeking. A person can be mentally ill and attention seeking, but most of the people with a mental illness that I’ve met do not fit that criteria. Please give the person a chance. Don’t dismiss them so quickly.
- Put them down for how they feel
- Please don’t tell the person that so and so has it worse, or tell them about the starving children in other parts of the world. They most likely already know. They don’t need any help feeling badly – they already do, and may not be able to help themselves. Instead of insulting them, maybe try being uplifting – or excuse yourself if you can’t control your tongue.
Hopefully you were already avoiding saying such things, but if not, now is a good time to start – have an awesome day!