Top Things You Should Not Say to Someone Who has Bipolar or Depression

Top Things You Should Not Say to Someone Who has Bipolar
Lists like this are nothing new. I’ve seen them on blogs and mental health websites for years so I never anticipated writing one myself. However, an individual recently made an insensitive comment to me that caught me off guard. Soon after I asked my followers on Twitter to tell me what they hoped to never hear again. The answers I received resonated with me and most of those responses are included below. Here is my list of things you should not say to someone who has bipolar or depression:

I know exactly how you feel

No you don’t. Even if we’re both 5’9”, have blond hair, blue eyes, drive a Prius and diagnosed with bipolar disorder on the exact same day, you can’t possibly know how I feel. I am a unique individual with unique feelings and unique reactions to the world around me. You may sympathize, but you can’t possibly know exactly how I feel

You don’t need to take all those medications

My psychiatrist went through 4 years as an undergraduate student, then 4 years of medical school, then 4 years as a resident psychiatrist, and another 2 years of specialty training. None of that is important, though, I’ll base my actions on your opinions even though they may have serious impacts on my health.

Don’t take “____________” it made me sick

This is similar to the one above, but at least the person believes they are making an educated recommendation. However, they obviously don’t understand that different people react to meds differently.

Everyone feels that way sometimes

No they don’t. Sure, most people go through a period of deep sadness, maybe even a period of depression, but they are usually situational and therefore temporary. A person with chronic depression becomes depressed for no damn reason.

You could feel better if you wanted to

Do you really think I don’t try to feel better? Like, wow, I never thought of that. Unitarian Universalist minister, Peter Morales once said it best about those who are depressed “Events in their lives did not make them depressed. They were not depressed because their lives were hell; their lives were hell because they were depressed.”

When I was younger people didn’t have bipolar

Yes there were plenty who did, but they usually went undiagnosed. Remember the kid who was lazy? He probably had depression. Remember how over-excited your cousin would get? She was probably manic. How about Aunt Lilly who just quietly went away one day? It’s a good possibility she spent some time in a mental health facility. Bipolar disorder (manic depression) is nothing new, we just now have a better understanding of it.

I heard your social security benefits are good if you have a mental problem

Here in the U.S. the social security payments are not even close to being good. They are good enough to keep me right at the poverty level.

You would be fine if you would just “go out”

“Going out” might be fun once I get the energy to get out of bed, take a shower and get dressed and getting out the door. Sometimes each one requires more effort than I possibly have.

You seem like you can go to work to me

That’s because you don’t see me when I’m home in bed with the lights turned off, the blinds closed and refusing to pick up the phone.

You have so many things to be thankful for

Yes I do and thank you for pointing that out, however, that doesn’t stop my depression or mania.

I’ve heard each of the comments or questions above at least once. The one about Social Security is the one which prompted this article. How about you? Any more you can add to the list?

  26 comments for “Top Things You Should Not Say to Someone Who has Bipolar or Depression

  1. July 21, 2014 at 08:46

    What a great post Bradley. You’ve hit the most often quoted comments really well. I’ve heard all these and more. My personal favorites are “But you look so good”, and “You seem fine to me”. I used to get these a lot when I first had migraines before I was dx’d with bipolar and I still get them now that I know I have BP. I wrote a post that dealt with these issues awhile ago at: http://nakednerves.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/30-things-about-my-invisible-illnes-you-may-not-know/. It covers many of the same points but from my own perspective. This question is one of them on their list. Thank you for posting this insightful list of insensitive things people say to us. It helps to share them with each other… It’d almost be funny if it weren’t so damn serious.
    Peace,
    Steve
    PS. Thank you for your visit to me as well…

    • Bradley
      July 21, 2014 at 09:33

      Great post. II stumbled on your blog somehow, and I’m glad I did. This article was pretty easy for me to write because I’ve heard them all before. It practically wrote itself

  2. July 11, 2014 at 12:48

    My personal favorite is “when I was young, people didn’t have bipolar”. I can no longer count the number of times I have heard that from mostly my ex-husband. Of course, people had manic depression back then. It is partly genetic, therefore logically, it had to exist. It just wasn’t a subject people talked about (among many). My grandmother was manic depressive. When I was a kid, I just thought she was weird. Now, having and living with the disorder, I can see it so clearly in her.

    My other favorite is the one about working. I get this one a lot from my parents. Yeah, I may seem fine and dandy and stable right now, but tomorrow could be different. I have rapid cycling, Bipolar Type I with mostly mixed episodes which amounts to wait a few minutes and my mood will change 🙂 How do you work with that combination? One day (or week) you’re stable, the next you are crying while you frantically clean the house because you cannot sit still.

    • Bradley
      July 11, 2014 at 13:02

      “How do you work with that combination? One day (or week) you’re stable, the next you are crying while you frantically clean the house because you cannot sit still.”

      Amen

  3. July 2, 2014 at 06:42

    How about “try not to think about it”. This was said to me by one of my most supportive friends about my crippling anxiety. What I wouldn’t give to be able to do this.

    • Bradley
      July 2, 2014 at 08:10

      Yes, it would be nice to be able to flick a switch and not have to think about it anymore. I’ve heard this one too.

  4. July 1, 2014 at 22:23

    Hey Bradley, 🙂
    Gosh the things people say make me laugh. My Aunt is Bipolar 1, I’m Bipolar 2 and my 30yr old son is Bipolar 2. Yet I still get these kind of things said to me within my own family. They have no clue what it’s like in our heads and how we very rarely get any piece inside it. I do not believe that diet is the only answer. It helps for our self esteem, but that’s it!
    I hate my meds with a passion, yet I know without them I will only end up in hospital having ECT treatment. Take care, Bradley. Hugs Paula xxxx

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 22:48

      Thanks for the comment, Paula. It’s good to see you back. I hope you’ll be posting regularly on your blog again.

  5. Deb
    July 1, 2014 at 19:27

    Great post Brad. I definitely need to remember a couple of these. In my defense, do you think it is human nature to try to relate to and help other people? We hate seeing people we love in pain. I know I have to practice and constantly remind myself not to try to fix and to just listen. As for myself there are times when I blow off other people’s helpful suggestions but sometimes I’ll get a nugget of help. Like just the other day for instance someone suggested to me a medication that I had already discounted but then they told me something about it that made me reconsider. Many people do lots of their own research and sometimes it is good information. However, I had a friend with a difficult diagnosis who told me she never wanted a suggestion about her illness. So I never offer any to that person. This person was polite but direct and I respected her wishes. I will definitely try to work more on listening. I also think we should try to inform someone when they make an inappropriate comment so that they can learn how we want to be treated.

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 21:04

      Deb, I could hug you! Thank you for asking such pertinent questions. If I sound ungrateful about well meaning individuals it’s only because so many of them we hear again and again. I do think it’s a natural instinct for some individuals to want to “fix” me. I can’t speak for everyone, but to me it would make a big difference if a question or statement is qualified. A simple “I am trying to understand….” or “Do you mind if I make a suggestion,,,” goes a long way with me. I’m always appreciative when someone is “truly” interested or concerned about what I’m going through. As some of the comments above suggest, to me it’s those who want to suggest homeopathy or a more “natural” diet that can be the worse. Though they may be well meaning they can be overly demanding and downright condescending. It’s rather arrogant for an individual to suggest I risk the danger of going off my meds.

      Thank you, again, for your well thought out and meaningful comment.

  6. kat
    July 1, 2014 at 18:21

    like anyone would ‘choose’ to become disabled due to bipolar for the ‘awesome’ social security benefits. those benefits only just barely pay the rent and utilities for most of us.

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 18:47

      I know, Kat. Isn’t it ridiculous. Maybe it’s me, but there’s a hint of suggestion that I choose to be disabled in that comment. If it wasn’t for Maurice I’d certainly be living on skid row. With all the drugs and alcohol around it wouldn’t be a good place to live for this alcoholic.

      • July 11, 2014 at 16:27

        I get that feeling a lot when people make well-meaning but rather misguided statements concerning my life with Bipolar and stuff. I somehow feel that a lot of people think that I chose to be diagnosed with Bipolar and stuff. Even my own father called it a life choice in an email he sent not too long ago. Off the deep end I went. Like I would choose to bathe my brain in anti-psychotics, or live below the poverty level. There was a point when I worked and was a making a decent living, but I was not well, and I lost those jobs largely due to undiagnosed and untreated mental illness. It didn’t that I self-medicated with bourbon every night 😐

  7. July 1, 2014 at 10:46

    Wow. Looks like you’ve touched a nerve with us, Bradley. Good for us to get it out and share. Thanks.

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 13:34

      “Then I was successful. 🙂

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 13:39

      I’m glad you managed to be able to go to the gym. Good job. I do a lot of walking but it took awhile before I could. I had to be somewhat balanced before I could attempt it.

  8. July 1, 2014 at 10:43

    Here’s one: “Exercise and vitamin D are supposed to be great for overcoming depression. You need to get out and have a good walk or ride your bike in the sun everyday.”

    Another: “Those meds are toxins and could do your body great harm. Better to find a doctor using natural methods.”

    Well, in answer to the first–with the meds I’m on, I overheat very easily and the bottle says to avoid prolonged sun exposure. I joined a gym in April and manage to force myself there even when depressed. I get my cardio and weight machines in. Two or occasionally three times a week is the best I can do — but its something. Sometimes it takes a herculean effort to get there. Don’t hound me. Being paralyzed mentally and emotionally is no picnic and I’m fortunate to have learned to push through as much as I have — don’t ask for more.

    In answer to the second: I understand all too well that my meds are toxins. The various meds I’ve taken over the years have already messed up my metabolism and my gut and put on mucho pounds. But I have to accept that and weigh the gains I get (to slow down and take the edge off my ultra rapid cycling bipolar) against the negatives the meds create. If I don’t take my meds, I very well can lose all judgement and die — the depressions are that crushing. My insurance covers traditional medicine and a good part of my medications. It doesn’t cover natural medicine practitioners or products. If it did, I probably would have tried that first after I was diagnosed. I can’t afford anything but what I’m doing now. I’m doing the very best I can. Truly.

    I know people care and are trying to help. But sometimes their statements hurt and stir up frustrations I’m trying to put behind me.

  9. Charlene
    July 1, 2014 at 10:02

    Heard all of these multiple times. Those who understand the least seem to be the experts in determining my health and judging the life I live. Perhaps I should listen to the judging know-it-alls. They make it sound so simple. “Have you tried to watch a funny movie?” “Why don’t you take some deep breaths?” “Why don’t you make a to-do list?” “Why don’t you try to get more organized, then things would be easier?”

    Gee, haven’t thought of any of those. Neither have my doctors.

    I also love the ones who tell me they have had rough times in their life, and they didn’t need a doctor and kept working, and if they can get through something, anyone can. Then comes the reminders of how bad people have it in third world countries.

    Gee, thanks for the insight. Feeling GREAT now.

    Stay strong by staying you, Bradley. Great post.

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 13:33

      It seems those that know the least are the first ones to give advice. Arrogant in their ignorance.

    • July 11, 2014 at 13:00

      I can say I have one thing in my life that is good. None of my close friends ever tell me any of these things. They understand that I have some debilitating mental problems, and they just chalk it up to me just being me. And, they love me in spite of my weirdness.

      It’s the parents (they are definitely experts on chronic mental issues, not), or even more irritating, total strangers who ask what I do for a living or what not, and when I reply that I am on disability, they ask why, like a dumbass I answer, and they tell me you look fine to me. What exactly does mental disorder look like? I didn’t realize I looked different than everybody else.

  10. July 1, 2014 at 09:32

    Tangential to ‘When I was younger people didn’t have bipolar’ — “It’s all a big pharma conspiracy to create customers for life.” Well thanks, remind me again how much I suck for needing medication every day of my life to function. ¬¬

    • Charlene
      July 1, 2014 at 10:04

      Totally!!!!!!!!

    • Charlene
      July 1, 2014 at 10:17

      Raeyn, yes, I have had more than one who are against Western medicine and the pharm companies tell me the same thing. According to them, I am just playing into the problem. I need to go all organic. I need to go vegan. I need to stop grains and go paleo. I need to take this supplement and that vitamin. I need kombucha tea. Yep, thanks for your smugness in proving how Earth friendly you are and what a dumbass you are for thinking you know more about my illness and how to treat it. And your point is well made that you think I’m part of the problem and you better than I am.

      • Bradley
        July 1, 2014 at 13:30

        I love this response, Charlene, you made me laugh. It’s funny only because it’s true.

    • Bradley
      July 1, 2014 at 13:27

      I don’t believe in conspiracy theories so I find the pharma ridicylous

    • July 11, 2014 at 12:52

      I have heard that before too. I tried going off my meds…….once. It will never happen again. Tell me again how it’s a big pharmacy conspiracy. I take 4 medications. How is that a pharmacological conspiracy?

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