Have you ever been asked some of the most inappropriate, odd, or unnerving questions about your mental illness or disorder? Maybe you have or haven’t because the answer to this question is subjective and based on perception. There’s a chance, the person asking the question just isn’t aware of what questions are appropriate or inappropriate. Although a lack of mental health awareness can lead to misperceptions and ambiguity, below are my top ten questions or comments that I wouldn’t recommend asking or saying to your friends and family members diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder; followed by a list of questions that might be deemed more appropriate.
- “I hope you’re 100% by tomorrow”
(This just doesn’t work because 100% doesn’t exist in any context excluding the world of academics. This comment may cause resentment because it can come across as having a nonchalant attitude)
- “Are you going to eat all of that?”
(This one is highly inappropriate in general, but anyone who has struggled with their weight, an eating disorder, or side effects of a medication can understand how this question can trigger past traumas, self-doubt, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and past eating disorders; bulimia, anorexia, binge eating, etc.)
- “Can I have one of your anti-anxiety pills? Today was a rough day”
(This is another obvious no-no, but does happen. This question/comment comes across as snide and hurtful. Most importantly, it’s dangerous to take medication that has not been prescribed to you.)
- “Why are you being so dramatic?”
(This is an unfortunate question or comment to make. There are many people who still think manic and depressive episodes are a choice and can be controlled. This isn’t true at all. This is an extremely hurtful comment because most people associate the word “drama” with acting in a theatrical manner. People with mental illnesses/disorders are not acting.)
- “So, what do you think is wrong with you?”
(By definition, the word “wrong” can mean a mistake. People with a mental illness/disorder are not mistakes.)
- “Do you ever wonder what it’s like to live without a mental illness?”
(Most likely not because everyone has challenges they must face in life and it’s never okay to think any challenge is greater than or less than my own. Do you ever wonder what it is like to live with a mental illness?)
- “I heard your medication has a lot of side effects, especially weight gain.”
(This comment creates unnecessary or elevated anxiety, fear, and rumination about taking a new medication.)
- “If you miss taking a dose, what will happen?”
(This can be misperceived because the question can imply that an individual will turn into a Jekyll and Hyde type character if a dose of medication is missed. The reality of the situation is that a missed dose of any medication can happen to anyone. Everyone manages hectic lives full of familial and work obligations causing delayed or missed medical treatments. No one is exempt from missing a dose of medication. The focus should be on scheduling reminders on your phone, computer, or any calendar available to ensure receiving medical treatment is a priority.
- “When will you start feeling better?”
(Mental illnesses are a lifelong healing and recovery process. There’s no definitive start and stop.)
- Do not stare.
(This is not a question or comment, but it’s important to mention. Some people with a mental illness or disorder have anxiety to some degree and already feel like everyone is judging and being critical. When you stare, you are increasing anxiety levels. If you are staring because you are noticing symptoms, different behaviors, abrupt weight fluctuations; then try to speak with him/her in private at an appropriate time. Remember, staring is not okay. Non-verbal communication can be more harmful than verbal communication.)
It’s ok to be curious and ask questions because a strong and healthy support system is a key component of the recovery process. However, it’s possible the wording of the question can be misperceived. Try to be mindful of your body language, tone, and choice of words. All can lead to misunderstandings, negative feelings, mistrust, and embarrassment. Maybe try asking the following questions instead;
- How do you gauge your recovery progress because you might have some tips I could use?
- What lifestyle changes have you made that we can do together?
- What can I do to help you throughout your recovery?
- Where can I get more information on mental health awareness?
- How do you manage stressful situations and can we swap ideas?
- If you’re asking the question, try to put yourself in the responder’s position. Think about how you’d feel receiving and responding to a question. If you get a sense the question causes feelings of discomfort, write it down as a draft, and come back later to rewrite it after you’ve figured out what information you’re trying to gather. Sometimes it’s helpful to let things simmer before moving forward.
- Remember, do not stare. Ask yourself, are you staring because you are afraid you have a mental illness/disorder too? Are you staring because you are concerned, nervous, confused, or insecure? No matter what the answer is to these questions, staring is never okay. Ask in private. Do not judge.
*Please note, it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to ensure the recovery process remains on track other than one’s own. These lists are from personal experiences and should not be taken as professional counseling services or medical advice. However, I hope by sharing my personal experiences others feel more comfortable asking and answering mental health awareness questions. It’s a sensitive topic, but knowledge is essential to bridging the gap between mental health stigmas and the truth.
© 2018 Heidi Sullivan-Inyama
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