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9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

I'm fairly sure most of us have been there. That gut-wrenching, hot-under-the-collar feeling of hearing someone else's insensitive remarks about MI. 

A lot of the time it can be our own friends and family trying to do right by us. Other times it can be people that simply just don't get it.

In this article, 9 Things not to say to someone with MI, the author, Tartakovsky, explains that many people don't know what to say because they've not learned how to respond to MI. She provides examples of nine common remarks people say and how to respond. Here's a few of them (go to link provided for full article):

“Get busy, and distract yourself.”

“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.”

“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.”

 “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 debilitated by an exhausting mental illness.”


What are your thoughts? Is it best to teach others what to say? Or are we fighting a tiring battle?  What are some of the insensitive remarks you've heard and how did you respond?  @SCORPION  I thought of this topic after reading and commenting on your post. I'd love hear your thoughts on this. Any thoughts from our  active contributers @Uggbootdiva @kenny66 @Loopy  @kristin @Alessandra1992 @kato @PeppiPatty

248 REPLIES 248

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say


CherryBomb ,"Build a bridge and get over it" "“Everyone else is dealing with life, so why can’t you?” There will always be some one who thinks that they have the answer to all of the problems the world has but are unable to see that they have the problem.

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

"if you toughen up and get out into the the real world it will sort out your schizophrenia"

"get a meaningful relationship-that will fix you up"

"If you weren't such an introvert you wouldn't have this problem"

All these were said with the best of intentions. Usually if I get the opportunity I give these and other people I meet a little info pack on Schizoaffective disorder, if the MI stuff is raised. Most read it.

For those I don't know much I offer to send them some info or give them an information website. I have had a couple ring me up and say they read it.

Mostly I don't get worried by ignorant observations or advice. The main one that gets to me is "whats it like to have a split personality" because that is such a warped stereotype.

My experience is though that whatever education we provide to these people has very little effect in the bigger picture of things. If multi million dollar education campaigns dont work whatever we try only has a very minimal localised effect.

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

@kenny66 your response is very proactive.

I think we all have the potential to effect change, and I think when it comes to a personal experience, or encounter, i.e someone we know, this can have the greatest impact.

In many ways, things don't come into our radar, it's a need to know basis.

Like your style Smiley Happy


Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

Hmmm. It can be very tricky responding to other people's attempts at supportive comments. I think sometimes it really is about the underlying attitude of the other person. Are they genuinely curious? or too eager to tell me what I should be doing?
Over time my own attitudes have changed, and I think many people's attitudes do change through either having their own experiences that can be eye opening, or become wiser through listening/reading/watching perspectives of lived experience in mental health..
I have often reminded people that living through a prolonged episode feels like being chained in wet want to move forward but it can be damn difficult due to all sorts of barriers..housing, employment, stigma, trauma...side effects of medication, fear of changing...
Hats off to all consumers who challenge stereotypes and stigmatising attitudes...

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

I have to say the most worrying thing for me that is said is that it is my thoughts. That I need to change the way I think. Re: 'its all in your mind'. I do believe and know even that mental attitude and positive thoughts and behavior's do help alot, along with supportive relationships. Like this forum.

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

At times I get 'you don't seem unwell', which seems like people are implying that I'm making stuff-up, particularly when I need to take time off work. I've only told a few people at work about my MI, and these are the people whom I feel comfortable with 'teaching what to say' by explaining to them what it is like to live a MI. For the others though, I offer no explanation as I fear my work could be compromised. 

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

For me it's annoying when someone just flippantly says:

"I'm so bipolar"


"She is so OCD"


If only they knew how much pain is associated with what people experience with those mental illnesses!

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

Yeah! I agree with you @coffeegirl! I think what we share in common is that people have preconceived ideads about MI, which is why I'm hesistant to disclose my MI to many other people in my workplace.  

Re: 9 things NOT to say to someone with MI - Teaching others what to say

Hi Karma, Kenny66, CherryBomb, Loopy ( hi Loopy!!) coffee girl,

I must write Kenny66, I like your style too.

I'm a small person in this big world who continually mentions,
1; Definition of having experiences of delusions in times in one's life.

2; The long line of chronic psychosis to neurotic and how easy one finds it to go down that line. Anyone can find themselves going down that line.

If there is a focus on "Meaningful Vollunteer work."instead of sometimes forcing work for the dole, the federal government could knock a whole lot of misconceptions on the head.
what is wrong of 'Work for the Dole, ' include visiting lonely people in boundary held facilities for company?
A person would be taught what is like to be, taught what to say what not to say, spent time with someone who is very lonely and spend time with someone and give themselves the opportunity to 'care.'

Am mindful that there is 20 miles of red tape to get through but if it is properly managed in a group held meeting...why. Not??

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