Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 1st 2013 Contents A40
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Julie Fast s friend went to the hos-
pital for a terrible colitis attack. "It
was so serious they sent her straight
to the ER." After reviewing her med-
ical records and seeing that her friend
was taking an antidepressant, the
intake nurse said, "Maybe this is all
in your head."
When it comes to mental illness,
people say the darnedest things. As
illustrated above, even medical staff
can make incredibly insensitive and
downright despicable remarks.
Others think teasing is okay.
Fast, a coach who works with part-
ners and families of people with bipolar
disorder, has heard stories of people
getting teased at work. One client s
son works at the vegetable department
of a grocery store. He has obsessive-
compulsive disorder and poor social
skills. When his symptoms flare up,
his coworkers will ask questions like,
"Why do the labels have to be so per-
fect? Why do they have to be in line
like that?" They ve also teased him
about being in a psychiatric facility.
But most people---hopefully---know
that being an outright jerk to someone
about their mental illness isn t just
inappropriate and ignorant. It s cruel.
Yet there are moments when even
neutral words may be misconstrued,
because the person is in a vulnerable
place, according to F Diane Barth,
LCSW, a psychotherapist and psycho-
analyst in private practice in New York
City. "The truth is that it can be com-
plicated to find the right comment to
make to someone who is struggling
with emotional difficulties."
This is why it s so important to edu-
cate yourself about helpful things to
say. In fact, Fast, author of several best-
selling books on bipolar disorder,
including Loving Someone with Bipolar
Disorder, believes that we have to be
taught what to say. "It s not innate at
all to help someone who has a mental
So what makes an insensitive
remark? According to clinical psychol-
ogist Ryan Howes, PhD, "The problems
happen when people make statements
that imply that mental illness is a sign
of emotional weakness, it s something
that can be quickly overcome with
some trite homespun advice or they
minimise it as a minor issue you can
just get over."
Below are additional examples of
problematic statements, along with
what makes a good response.
1. "Get busy, and distract your-
"With significant mental illness,
(distractions) won t work, not even
temporarily," Howes said. After a person
slogs through various diversions, they re
still left with the same issues. "Ignoring
the issue doesn t make it go away."
2. "Do you want to get better?"
For mental health blogger Therese
Borchard, this was the most hurtful
thing anyone has ever said to her. While
she knows the person didn t have ill
intentions, it still had a powerful effect.
"It implied that I was staying sick on
purpose, and that I had no interest in
pursuing health, not to mention that
I was too lazy or disinterested to do
what I needed to do to get better."
3. "Change your attitude."
While a change in perspective can
be helpful, it doesn t cure conditions
such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, PTSD
or schizophrenia, said Howes. And
changing one s attitude isn t so easy
either. "It s incredibly difficult for a
high-functioning person to change
their attitude, let alone someone debil-
itated by an exhausting mental illness."
4. "Stop focusing on the bad
stuff, and just start living."
According to Barth, "one of the most
common mistakes is to tell a person
to stop focusing on themselves, or on
the bad things, or on the past, and just
start living." Why is this so problem-
atic? It can make a person feel even
worse about themselves. "They figure
the fact that they can t do it is, in their
mind, just one more sign of their fail-
5. "You have everything you need
to get better."
"This is well-intentioned, but to me
it sounded like an indictment against
me for not trying hard enough," said
Borchard, also author of the book
Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression &
Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad
Genes. Plus, this might not even be
accurate. Sometimes people don t have
everything they need to improve.
"Sometimes you need a little assis-
6. "You can snap out of it. Every-
one feels this way sometimes."
Everyone experiences a range of
emotions. For instance, everyone feels
sad occasionally. But sadness on some
days isn t the same as "a hopeless pit
Ryan Howes, PhD, says
"The problems happen
when people make
statements that imply
that mental illness is a
sign of emotional
something that can be
quickly overcome with
some trite homespun
advice or they minimise
it as a minor issue you
can just get over."
Don't say these things
to someone with
• Continues on Page A43
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