Mental illness often looks a lot different to outsiders than to the person living with it. “Why can’t they just get over it?” “C’mon, they’re just sad, and they don’t have anything to be sad about.” “It’s all in their head, really.”
These are just a few of the insensitive, misinformed critiques that people who don’t live with mental illness have about those who do. They’re phrases that not only discount the person living with mental illness, but also derail the effort to normalize and effectively talk about mental health.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2009 and 2012, 8 percent of surveyed Americans over age 12 lived with depression, one of the most common mental illnesses, with 3 percent of Americans living with depression reporting severe symptoms. However, 65 percent of people with severe symptoms of depression weren’t receiving treatment, something that might be seen as more societally acceptable to seek out if we improved how we spoke about mental health.
Across Twitter, people living with mental illness are sharing their own stories of being shamed into silence by their diagnosis. Using the hashtag #ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness, started by U.K. reporter Hattie Gladwell, people are not only discussing their diagnosis, but are also attacking misconceptions about mental illness by showcasing the ignorant phrases they’ve been told.
For Gladwell, she was told that she didn’t need medication, but motivation to “cope” with her mental health.
Quote this tweet with the most unhelpful/insensitive thing someone has said to you about your mental illness.— hattie gladwell (@hatttiegladwell) May 6, 2018
I’ll start: One person told me I didn’t need medication, I just needed to be more motivated to cope with my mental health. #ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness
There are the common “just get over it” and “just snap out of it” responses, said by people who don’t understand what its like to not be 100 percent in control.
After a panic attack at work – a week after I came back from being on the sick with anxiety and depression;— Alessandra (@Pinksandi) May 6, 2018
Boss: ‘you can’t do that, stuff like that scares people. You can’t do that’
I pity his wife who he told me has the same illness#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness https://t.co/2PmKlvzCBB
“That is an irrational fear, so stop being afraid of it, you’re wasting my time and all your peers time”— Lanney (@LilannePnw) May 7, 2018
Teacher then left the class until I “got over it” while all my peers yelled at me to grow up, but wouldn’t let me leave.. #ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness
Others think their solutions such as “thinking positive thoughts” and “going for walks” will help people with mental illness become completely “cured,” when diagnoses like chronic depression and anxiety are not something you can simply shake off.
#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness People who tell you that positive thinking is the key to battling depression. Oh thank you! Thank you! Before you came along, it literally never occurred to me to try and think positively. I'm cured! pic.twitter.com/dGLHs84lZn— ✨ ZoroAstraZeneca✨ (@TariyePeterside) May 7, 2018
Then there are the people who think that undermining someone’s struggle with living with mental illness with the reasoning “everyone goes through this” is at all comforting. In reality, it feels like a justification urging someone to stop talking about their struggles at all.
#Thingspeoplehavesaidaboutmymentalillness "What do you mean you are disabled by anxiety? We all have anxiety!" Anxiety (disorder) from PTSD isn't what everyone has. Crippling panic attacks and unknown triggers are my daily life. Don't judge something because you don't understand.— NrrrdGrrrl (@_NrrrdGrrrl_) May 7, 2018
#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness— Avery (@averytalksmh) May 7, 2018
“We’re big girls now we can take care of ourselves”
“Everyone has bad days and there are always people worse off than you”
Stop undermining people struggling with MH
Wow, where to start with this one?!— Paddy O'Brien (@wolfetone98) May 6, 2018
“Other people have it much worse than you do.”
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“Everyone else is dealing with life, so why can’t you?”
“You’re being selfish.”#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness https://t.co/tPySjTJeJh
Here's a story from PRIVATE high school. We had 8 projects due in a week in the same class.— bailey! (^O^)/ (@gajelly_) May 7, 2018
Me: I could only finish 3. I had too many things going on in my in life.
Teacher: Yeah, well everyone else has sports and they finished it.#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness
There are people who think that mental illness is being used as an excuse to bail, or as a justification for “not trying.” Again, it’s as if all people with mental illnesses have to do is think positively and their “problems” will go away.
[in the midst of the worst depressive episode of my life]: "I feel like you're using depression as an excuse, as a crutch. I don't see you trying."#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness https://t.co/uUZUIFp2mi— Mikal Salaam (@MikalSalaam) May 7, 2018
And there are people who think that being well-off in life doesn’t give people with mental illness anything to be “sad” about, as if mental illness is monetary-based.
"why are you so sad? You have a nice life"— NAMJOONIE DAY #OurSeoulPoetRM (@taroteajiminie) May 7, 2018
"why are you scared? Its just a party"
"why do you look tired all the time? You should get some sleep"
"you don't know what stress is, you're just lazy"
"you're not depressed, it's just a phase"#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness https://t.co/YdAnoxZDGZ
There are the people who don’t understand suicidality nor suicidal ideations.
And don’t forget people who think that telling someone with mental illness that their diagnosis is something to be coveted or desired.
“It’s attention seeking” (eating disorders)— Juliette Burton (@JulietteBurton) May 7, 2018
“You sound like a psycho” (being sectioned)
“Try NOT being sad” (depression)
“Snap out of it” (all)
“Lots of people have it worse than you”
“You don’t look ill”
“I wish I was anorexic”#ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness https://t.co/xEXDdf8y8M
Regardless of which mental illness posters of the hashtag were diagnosed with, these false rationalizations undermine the work done to make discussing mental illness more acceptable, and in turn, make seeking diagnosis and treatment of mental illness more acceptable as well.
For many, the hashtag showed people with mental illness that they aren’t alone in hearing ignorant, harmful statements and that others are pushing against this negative current, too.
I'm loving going in to the #ThingsPeopleHaveSaidAboutMyMentalIllness tag, not because of the things they are writing, but knowing there are so many out there that have heard the same sorta shit I have. pic.twitter.com/GHPrYw94Mi— Meg (@avengermegs) May 7, 2018