On Mental Illness: Your Experience Is Not Mine

CONTENT WARNING: The following article speaks on mental health. It makes general references to mental illness and, more specifically, to depression. Please read at your own discretion. Do not hesitate to stop and ask for help from a helpline or mental health professional if the contents of this article trigger you in any way.


“I understand.”

“I know what you’re going through.”

“I went through the same thing.”


Phrases like these manifest when life gets hard. They’re meant to offer support and provide comfort, or to show a hurting someone that they’re not alone. Unfortunately, and although the words harbor no mal-intent, they can have a funny way of silently hurting people. Because you can’t possibly know what someone else is going through - you aren’t them.


People, Emotion, Dramatic, Female, Woman, Person

Photo via Pixabay


Often, people experiencing depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses feel that they cannot understand their own seemingly irrational feelings. By claiming to understand or know what someone is going through, we can often shut down their ability to share or work through these difficult emotions. Another common side effect of the “I know what you’re going through” mentality is a sense of competitiveness. By sharing instead of listening, you can give the impression that you are trying to “one-up” their pain. Most importantly, sharing about your own experience with mental health in the midst of someone else’s crisis can make them feel unheard or as though their pain is invalid.


Gif via Giphy


As someone who personally struggles with depression and anxiety, I have to work extremely hard to remember that another’s experience is not mine. I do not own it, I cannot understand it. All I can do is offer support and ask how they need to be helped. At my worst, I need attention and care. I need to be reminded that I’m not a burden on other people. I need controlled breathing exercises and most of all? I need a hug. But that’s not what everyone needs, so I can’t go around claiming to have gone through the same thing or hugging everyone who looks down.


rejected let me love you GIF

GIF via Giphy


According to the World Health Organization, about 300 million people around the globe suffer from chronic depression. In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental health problems or illness. Although mental illness may present itself similarly in different people, it is not the same. No two brains are alike, and so no experience can be truly mirrored. Even when parallels exist between two people, each one has vastly different views, understanding, and their own unique identity that influences the way they process the world. Each of them loves and hurts and heals in different ways.


Photo via Pixabay


Instead of claiming to understand what someone is going through, and thereby negating their lived experiences and the things that make them who they are, we need to choose new phrases. We need to expand our vocabulary and consider the possibility that being understood is less important than feeling heard and valued.


Photo via Pixabay


This time of year, with all the focus on initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk, it’s important to put a little attention toward awareness. Toward bettering ourselves so that we may better support others. If you are someone who does not struggle with mental illness, remember that your support is priceless and that you don’t have to understand to be of help. If you’re someone who does struggle with it, remember that your experience is individual, meaning that no one can share it but also that no one can invalidate it.


If you are experiencing a mental health crisis or want to speak with someone regarding your mental health, please visit here for resources and supports in your area, or here if you are a York student and would like help directly through the university.