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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. The best thing is to listen to them and let them know you care. Try not to worry too much about saying the wrong thing.

It’s important not to be dismissive of their mental health issue, for example saying things 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.

Try not to blame them or get angry or frustrated. Their mental illness is not a personal weakness or failing, and it shouldn’t define them.

It's important not to:

  • 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
  • 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
  • use words that stigmatise, like ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’

Try not to 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. They may not be ready for treatment straight away. Taking it slowly and figuring it out together is a good way to steer them toward the road to recovery.

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 187 263.
  • 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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2018

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