We’ve all heard hurtful or invalidating comments at some point in our lives. If you live with a mental illness, you might be especially familiar with some seemingly “harmless,” but actually invalidating things people can say to those struggling.
Sometimes these “harmless” comments come in the form of a question. (Have you taken your meds today?) Sometimes they come with a “solution” via personal anecdote. (You just need to be positive. I pulled myself out of my sadness by focusing on the good things in life.) Most often, they come from a place of misunderstanding mental health struggles. And even though these “harmless” comments may come from a good place, they can often invalidate someone struggling with their mental health.
When someone opens up about struggling with their mental health, oftentimes they aren’t looking for your “solution,” “advice,” opinions, DIY healing guide, etc. — they may just be looking for someone to listen and be there.
We wanted to know what “harmless” comments people have heard that were actually psychologically damaging, so we asked our mental health community to share one with us and explain what it feels like to hear it.
It’s important to remember what may seem “harmless” to one person may actually be hurtful or psychologically damaging to another. No matter what anyone says, your feelings are valid, and you deserve support.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “You’re so lucky you get to be in bed all day.”
“‘You’re lucky you get to be in bed all day instead of working.’ I want to work. I’m home all day in bed because my mental health and fibromyalgia make is near impossible for me to leave the house without a painful meltdown. I’m completely broke and it makes me feel so much worse.” — Ashley M.
“’Must be nice to have all that time off.’ Yep, I love being sick all the time and missing school and work for mental health and chronic pain issues. Being in the hospital is super fun.” — Jessica Z.
2. “What do you have to be depressed about?”
“I remember my family member saying that I have ‘nothing to be depressed about.’ Which, in reality, I’ve had many things happen to me. Depression and anxiety just doesn’t allow me to say these things to them because I’m afraid, apparently. Deeply, that affected me. It still does, and many others said that I have nothing to be afraid about, too. Which really aches me. Nobody knows what I’ve really been through.” — Hunter P.
3. “That’s just your mental illness talking.”
“Every time someone dismisses my feelings about something as ‘just my borderline talking.’ Like I am not allowed to have feelings or I can’t get upset like everyone else. Makes me feel like I (and my feelings) don’t matter.” — Daniela R.
“Every time I have a legitimate emotion like frustration or anger at somebody or if I am stressed over money etc., then somebody in the family says something like, ‘It’s just your anxiety and depression talking. We really need to check the meds you’re on…’ Like I’m not allowed to feel any emotions or get upset at anything or anyone… It’s so painful to hear it from them. They’re supposed to be on my side but it makes me feel like they wish I was a remote control with an off switch so I could only speak or feel when they want me to.” — Talysha R.
4. “Your life isn’t even that bad…”
“There’s this comment my parents make every time I tell them, or even hint at my mental illness(s). ‘You’re life isn’t even bad.’ It always affects me because it makes me think I shouldn’t feel this way and I always think someone has it worse. This comment always stays at the back of my mind.” — Lauren P.
“I was once told by a psychiatrist, ‘You’re not even that bad…’ I felt so invalidated after opening up to them. It affected me for a couple days afterwards.” — Johanna M.
“‘In the grand scheme of things, your problems are rather small, hardly problems at all.’ Well… thanks for bringing it up, because I’m not agonizing over it too much already.” — Julz T.
5. “You’re just being silly.”
“’You’re just being silly.’ I rarely tell anybody how I’m feeling unless I’m getting really bad. When I reach out at those times, I get told I’m being silly and to stay strong, which disregards how I’m feeling and makes me more reluctant to reach out.” — Charlotte S.
6. “Are you not leaving the house because you can’t, or because you don’t want to?”
“‘Are you refusing to leave the house because you actually can’t or just because you can’t be bothered?’ Haha the things I would have done to be able to choose the second option (am much better now in regards to going out and about).” — Malisha L.
7. “I thought you were over that by now.”
“‘I thought you were over it now as you seem happier.’ You can’t just be ‘over it.’ It takes time and one good day does not mean every day will be a good day. What they associate as a good day is just me ‘getting by.’” — Abbi V.
8. “You’re too pretty to be depressed.”
“‘You’re too pretty to be depressed.’ That one was the silliest.” — Chelsea V.
9. “Don’t be a drama queen.”
“I was having a bad anxiety day and instead of putting my anxious energy into that, I was getting upset that the towels wouldn’t fit in the closet. It was my mom’s friend and even though I know she didn’t mean anything mean, it really hurt.” — Eme N.
10. “You don’t seem like you have bipolar disorder…”
“‘You don’t seem bipolar. Are you sure you have it?’ I’ve had a relatively good handle on my illness since about 2009. Just because you don’t witness my manias or my severe depressions doesn’t mean I don’t have bipolar disorder. It bothers me that I would have to be visibly sick for people to believe me.” — Courtney T.
11. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
“‘You don’t want to get better, you just want to feel sorry for yourself.’ I broke down crying yesterday after reading a comment on a page saying, ‘I decided to not be depressed anymore. You can do it if you want to’ because it reminded me of what she had said to me. The guilt, pain and frustration is so overwhelming when I can’t fight my depression and people tell me I’m being selfish.” — Andrea G.
12. “Tell me something good that happened today.”
“Whenever I would have a bad day, I would be asked this. It essentially told me that no one liked talking about sad/bad days and that I should hide those things. That I had to force myself to be happy and think positively regardless of my state. I know it wasn’t intended that way, but that’s how I interpreted it as a kid.” — Alyssa P.
13. “I miss the ‘old you.’”
“A long time friend of mine told me I ‘used to be so happy go lucky’ and he misses the old me. I told him the old me stayed drunk back then to stay numb. I also have been re-traumatized since then and was finally pushed too far. He told me the same day that I need to go to church and that God will fix me. I walked away from that conversation feeling extremely hurt and gaslighted. I confronted him about it later that day after I processed it all and he apologized, but he still didn’t get it. I rarely talk to him anymore. He’s a wonderful person, but it seems like every conversation we have heightens my anxiety even more.” — Tracie B.
14. “You’re just looking for attention.”
“‘You’re advertising your anxiety/depression to get what you want and get attention.’ No. No I’m not. Choosing to be open about mental illness was meant to help myself accept it as a part of me, as well as to help others who struggle silently and are afraid to ask for help. The fact that someone would even think I am this kind of person hurts deeply, especially since this came from someone who I loved and I thought I knew. This was also extremely invalidating, as if to say that my struggles aren’t real. They are very real, and just because you don’t see that, it doesn’t make them any less real.” — Ashley O.
What would you add?