By Sara Ali, LPC-I
One of the reasons I hear from clients regarding why they don’t talk to others about what they are going through is the fear of getting hurt by what the other person might say.
Typically, our small talk consists of “Hey, how’s it going?” or “Salamalaykum! How are you?” These exchanges are quickly followed by a “What are you up to these days?” and depending on you who talk to, short and friendly responses such as “I’m good” or “I’m okay” are used.
Sometimes we may want to really say, “I’m okay. I could be better if I wasn’t feeling down all the time” or “I’m pushing through the day, because I’ve been feeling anxious and jittery.”
Although we are not responsible for what others choose to say to us, we are responsible for what we say in response to them. Struggling with a mental illness is a challenge, and often those who struggle with it are isolated within themselves feeling overwhelmed or lonely. Whether someone you know, or love is struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar, substance abuse, or schizoaffective disorder, living with it is not an easy fight. It involves many ups and downs, frustration, sadness, grief, and pain for individuals and their caregivers. If you are wanting to be a support but are not sure of what to say, here are 5 things you can say to someone you love or know who is struggling.
- I know you’re struggling, and it’s okay.
From an early age, we are taught that pain is bad, and we quickly react to negative emotions by trying to hide it, cover it up, or avoid it. However, a negative emotion like pain, sadness, frustration, or anger are not all bad. It is through our negative emotions we can understand what is important to us and what we want or need in our life. Therefore, letting someone know it is okay to be struggling may help alleviate the burden to hide, cover, or avoid their struggles. It validates and acknowledges their experience.
- I am here for you.
It can be very dark and lonely when you are living with a mental illness and letting someone know you are there for him/her is a great source of comfort. Your presence would be a powerful reminder that he/she does not have to struggle alone. Some ways you can be there are by going to therapy, doctor or pharmacy visits, listening, drinking tea/coffee together, or engaging in activities such as taking walks, going to the gym, or even doing errands together. Sometimes, it’s the little things that you do that make the strongest impact in someone’s life.
- What you’re going through now is not your forever.
Your mind can play tricks on you, and one of those tricks is fooling you into thinking the circumstances you face now will be in your life forever. Reminding someone their struggle does not have to define their life and is temporary can be a powerful
way to offer hope. It was once said, one day you will tell your story of how you’ve overcome what you’re going through now, and it will become part of someone else’s survival guide.
- This is not your fault.
Individuals suffering from a mental illness tend to blame themselves. Reminding our loved ones, they are struggling with their illness just as they would if they had the common cold is important to their healing. Supportive phrases like this alleviates the burden of self-blame and allows for the mental space to work towards healing. Just like we don’t choose to get the cold, we don’t choose to be depressed, anxious, bipolar, or have ADHD.
- Say nothing.
Sometimes it is not what we say that matters, but what we do. It can feel awkward in a moment of silence or we try to fill up the silence by saying something. But giving a hug, holding hands, or just sitting together within that moment are small gestures that can far outweigh what words have to offer.
It is a great opportunity to reach out and be compassionate to others in whatever way we can, and not saying or doing something hurtful can seem challenging. No matter our situation, our background, or our level of education, we all seek belonging and acceptance. If we can show acceptance through compassionate words and be aware of what we are saying and doing, it can be a life changing moment for someone who is struggling. Often times, a few comforting words or small gestures of kindness go a long way in terms of recovery and healing.
About Sara Ali
Sara Ali is a licensed Mental Health Clinician at Guided Restoration, serving the needs of her clients through individual and group therapy settings. Over the last 7 years, Sara has helped individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, stress management, relationships, grief and loss, trauma, and domestic violence. She has served as a consultant for behavioral research projects at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and serves as an advisory council member at Olive Branch Muslim Family Services and Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse. Additionally, Sara is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Muslim Mental Health and is a presenter on various mental health topics for conferences, faith centers, or nonprofit organizations. More writings and insight from Sara can be found on Facebook @saramindsonline.