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What NOT to say to someone with a mental health issue

2-minute read

When someone close to you is struggling or has a mental health issue, it can be hard to know how to support them – despite your best intentions, some comments can do more harm than good. Here are some things that are best left unsaid and the reasons why.

It's important not to:

  • make unhelpful or dismissive comments like ‘snap out of it’, ‘cheer up’, ‘forget about it’, ‘pull yourself together’, or ‘I’m sure it will pass’ - these comments can make a person feel worse
  • say 'you know how they feel' if you don’t, because this invalidates their experience
  • point out that others are worse off - this is dismissive
  • blame your friend or loved one for changes in their behaviour, even if you feel tired and frustrated
  • avoid the person
  • make fun of their mental illness
  • pressure them, if they don’t want, to go out or to discuss their issues with you
  • think of mental illness as a personal weakness or failing
  • define your friend or loved one by their mental illness
  • use words that stigmatise, like ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’
  • get frustrated or angry
  • feel guilty if you didn’t know your friend or someone you love has a mental health issue - the changes can be gradual, and people often hide their symptoms from close friends and family.

Where to get help

If someone needs help, talking to a doctor is a good place to start. To find out more, or if they would like to talk to someone else, here are some organisations that can help:

  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) – call 1800 18 7263.
  • beyondblue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) – online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467.

Last reviewed: December 2016

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