Also, before I begin, I just want to clarify that it is very seldom that something someone says has the power to chase away my darkness or actually "make it better." Rather, the words of comfort and encouragement that others have so often shared with me have given me the strength to hold on until the darkness goes away on its own later. Don't feel that you have to "fix" the problem, as an easy fix is not often available. Just being with me in the darkness and sharing genuine words of love mean the world to me when my heart is broken.
So with that being said, let's get started. Things to say to someone struggling with mental illness:
- "I love you." Don't we all need to know that someone loves us, regardless of our struggles? A heartfelt expression of love has been such a lifeline for me at different times and never ceases to wrap my heart in warmth and comfort. It reminds me that I need to hold on through the darkest of dark nights, because I am loved and needed by someone. It also helps me fight the lies depression feeds my brain that I am unlovable or a burden to my family and friends. Often times, even if someone has said that they love me 100 times before, I always wonder and worry that maybe that love has changed since the last time they said it, so it helps to hear it again and again, even if it seems that I should obviously know by now.
- "Your brain is broken." This may not sound comforting to hear, but it really does help. It helps me to remember that this is not me; it's this problem inside my brain that is beyond my control. It also reminds me that however I feel in the moment is temporary, because broken things can be healed.
- "This will pass." I'm pretty sure this one is self-explanatory, but in the moments of greatest pain, my brain cannot comprehend that the hurt will pass. It seems like I have always felt and will forever feel that way. Remembering that it will pass gives me strength to hold on, because it reminds me that the light will come again eventually.
- "I'm here for you." It's so hard to reach out, especially in the moments when I am struggling the very most. I worry that I've asked for help too many times before or that I'm going to push everyone away from me if they feel weighed down by my darkness. Hearing these four words dispels some of the fears that my brain so often thinks are true. And just like with expressions of love, even if this has been said before, sometimes I worry that it has changed, so don't be afraid to repeat it.
- "Heavenly Father is pleased with you." It is beyond heartbreaking to me that every time I am experiencing depression, I am convinced that Heavenly Father is so disappointed in me. It feels like I must have done something terribly wrong and that I will never get things right in my life. This has often led to feelings of hopelessness, as I've thought "why would I keep holding on if I'm already too far gone?" I am not perfect by any means, but I'm also not the awful person that my depressed brain tries to tell me I am, so hearing that my life is not a complete failure means so much to me.
- "You did ____________ well recently." I'm not trying to ask for compliments, but my depressed brain has this special super power that includes blocking out every good thing I've done and focusing on the one or two things I have not done right and then thinking that who I am is based on those one or two things. For example, if I let my daughter watch more TV one day than I normally would, I suddenly feel like this failure of a mom, like all my daughter does is watch TV all day every day, and then my brain forgets about the moments when I played a game with her or colored with her or snuggled and read a book to her. My husband has often been able to break my patterns of negative thinking or comparing myself to others by helping me recognize something good I have done. It always catches me by surprise when he mentions these things, because my brain had wiped those clean from my memory in the moment. It brings a sudden feeling of peace to my heart to know that I'm doing better than I think I am.
- "Do you want to talk about it?" Sometimes I don't want to talk about what I am feeling, and if not, I just say that, but most often, talking about it allows my brain to make sense of some things. It allows me to work through the problem rather than pushing it aside to deal with later.
- Ask questions. Why was it that that situation made you feel that way? What makes you feel better? What does it feel like when you are struggling? Are certain events or times of day worse for you? These are just some examples of questions to ask that allow me to process some of the thoughts swirling around in my brain. They show me that the person I am talking to cares, and they also help me to figure out what is going on so that I can make progress in battling this brain sickness.
- Advise them to get professional help. Sometimes the best thing you can do as a friend or a loved one is to make sure that the person is getting the help they need to get better. You can be supportive and loving and helpful all day long, but ultimately, you can't make the problem better, and until a professional is involved, the progress is very limited. You can even go a step further and help make phone calls, offer to go with the person to an appointment, or follow up to see how the appointments are going.
I know this is a pretty long list and may seem overwhelming. Just know that your love and support is needed and appreciated. I know for myself that I could NEVER do this without my husband and good friends who have loved me through the hardest times. You can literally save a precious life by being the friend someone else needs.