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What Not To Say To Someone Struggling With Mental Health

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Toronto chapter.

Edited By: Joy Jiang


As everyone knows, university is difficult, but it can often times be more difficult for those who struggle with mental illness. As someone who has recently come to terms with their mental health, it’s been a frequent battle to figure out how to cope with my mental health and get through daily school tasks at the same time. For a more visual comparison, on days when I’m not feeling 100%, getting out of bed feels like there are impenetrable barricades surrounding me and I need more effort than usual to get out of bed. This causes really simple tasks to feel absolutely exhausting for me. In terms of my anxiety, certain situations can make me feel either severely out of place, or my heart race to the point where the space I’m in feels extremely uncomfortable. While I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding and acknowledging my mental health, there’s still quite a journey ahead of me.

Since my first experience with the term “mental health”, I’ve always seen negative stigma surrounding it. Though as of recently people have better understood how to support their friends dealing with mental health, many people often say things that can be hurtful to those struggling with mental health. I’ve had a fair share of the annoying remarks myself, and let me tell you it can get fairly annoying.

So I’m going to talk about this in the best way I know how: humour and memes.

“Just, like, get over it!”

Wow, thank you, I’m cured! I can finally get out of bed and never worry about anything ever! Sarcasm aside, it’s feasible to say that you won’t be able to understand how the other person is feeling, especially when something might seem easy for you, but difficult for another person. Tasks that might like seem simple, back-of-the-head kind of things to one person may be the only thing a person is able to do that day. 

“You literally having nothing to worry about”

You literally don’t live my life, friend. Again, this is another example of where some things may seem easy for one person but difficult to another. I’m unfortunately one of those people that stress about literally everything that can go wrong with something, and in one way it helps motivate me to do better (though according to my therapist using stress as a motivator is really, really bad, so maybe I’m not the best person to be taking advice from). In the end, telling me I have nothing to worry about helps me in the exact opposite way.

“Wow, what happened to you?!”

Yes. I’m aware. I probably low-key stressed about it this morning. My hair’s a mess. I have stress acne. I bite my nails. Literally, I’m fully aware. Pointing stuff like that out to me will very likely make me become more self-conscious and not want to talk to you about my personal issues. Although I’m generally very open about my mental health, pointing out when I’m having a bad day says to me that you’re trying to pick at whatever confidence I have that day, and doing so is guaranteed a one-way ticket to me not wanting to talk to you.

“You were fine yesterday though so that means you can definitely come to this thing!”

See the thing is, I can’t turn on and off whether I get anxious at situations. My brain likes to do that for me, and I don’t have much control over it. Weird, huh? The only thing I can do is acknowledge which situations can make me feel anxious and to avoid situations that can potentially put me in a stressed out/anxious state. Long story short, I can’t predict whether a specific situation will make me feel anxious or not, and it sucks. Don’t pressure someone into going somewhere just because they were fine the day before. It’s not how anxiety works sometimes.


“Oh, you don’t look like you have anxiety!”

Well, yes, I don’t have an everyday pin or something that says I have anxiety (although I may or may not get a shirt). Regardless, there’s no real way to tell if someone is struggling with something just by looking at them. This is especially true for those who have high-functioning anxiety (like me) who tend to hide their mental health really well and are able to go about their public as someone who may not be struggling as much. Saying someone doesn’t have mental health issues after they’ve confided in you is very damaging to the person, and can cause them to question whether they do have a problem and whether they actually need help or not (trust me, I have gone down that road several times, it’s not fun).

“Have you tried *insert something I have already tried*?”

Yes, I’ve tried the breathing, I’ve tried the exercise, I’ve tried the medication, trust me I’ve tried most of it. Truth is, many of these things may offer temporary solutions, but often times with mental health, it’s a matter of acknowledging one’s mental health and learning coping mechanisms as opposed to actually curing the problem. For me, while I’ve learned to better deal with my issues using methods that have worked from trial-and-error, that doesn’t mean I’m fully rid of any of these issues.

This being said, it’s usually not a good idea to give people recommendations, especially if you’re not licensed in it. And please stop recommending I breathe. I do it every second of every day, trust me.

“Oh, that’s nothing! This one time I *something irrelevant to my current situation*”

I don’t think anything irritates me more than when I open up about a bad anxious episode I had and people respond with “oh dude that’s not bad, this one time I-” 

Hi, hello, literally can you not. Anxiety is a very relative thing for people, and what might seem like a small thing to you might not be for someone else! Again, saying stuff like this discourages me from opening up to you when I don’t feel good because I will assume you think my feelings are irrelevant/not intense enough for you. For me specifically, I feel like my delay in opening up about my mental health has been because I felt like my situation isn’t as intense as other situations I’ve heard about it. Mental health, no matter how big or small, matters and should by no means be compared to someone else’s negatively.


Now that I’ve done my rant, more often than not the instances above tend to happen because the person means one thing but the wording comes out wrong/insensitive. Although every person struggling with mental health is different, the phrases above are generally the most common things people like to say/suggest. The best way you can support your friends and peers struggling with mental health is to acknowledge their feelings and that while you may not understand what they’re going through, you’ll offer to be there for them no matter what. If you or a friend is struggling with mental health, consider making an appointment with Health and Wellness or consulting the services offered within your college or faculty. Have a safe and wonderful rest of the semester, friends! 

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Architecture History and Design Double Major and Environmental Geography Minor at the University of Toronto