Mental Illness: What to say and not to say to a loved one

Supporting the Mentally Ill: What to say and not to say to a loved oneThis is the third post in a four part series and the response continues to be positive. I hope that I’m able to touch someone’s life in a helpful way. Next week I will speak about my own story and experiences with family members.

Figuring out what to say to someone with ANY disease is difficult. Some diseases are even harder. Say the wrong thing and you can hurt someone you care without meaning to. The fact that you are taking the time to research how to deal with a loved one’s mental illness says a great deal about you.

When speaking with a mentally ill person about their illness, be honest, look them in the eye and relax. Minimize distractions if at all possible. Try to use “I statements” instead of “You statements”. Ask questions, and if you don’t understand, ask for clarification. Try to listen without defending and speak without offending.

There are a number of statements that are ignorant, careless and just plain cruel. I’ve narrowed the list to ten of the most common. After the negative list is a positive list.

If in doubt about what to say, try this: “How are you today?’ The bottom line is RESPECT.

This Series:

  1. Mental Illness: Supporting A Loved One With a Mental Illness
  2. Mental Illness: The Role of the Caretaker
  3. Mental Illness: What to say AND not to say to a loved one
  4. Mental Illness: How My Family Helps


  1. It’s all in your head.
  2. If you’d stop thinking about it all the time, you’d get better.
  3. Everyone gets down sometime.
  4. You don’t feel good? Me neither.
  5. Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  6. You just like all the attention you’re getting.
  7. Nobody ever said life was fair.
  8. The Lord doesn’t give us more than we can handle.
  9. Why can’t you be normal?
  10. You are such an embarrassment.

Below are list of things that most people, in any situation would be ok with hearing. Remember though that anything you say depends on the level of your relationship. Please don’t offer to hug a stranger!


  1. I’m here for you. You are not alone.
  2. I’m sorry this is happening.
  3. What can I do to help?
  4. You are important to me.
  5. I accept you as you are.
  6. If you would like to talk…
  7. I am not afraid of you or your mental illness.
  8. Would you like a hug?
  9. I may not understand what you are feeling but you have my sympathy.
  10. I love you. (only if you mean it!)

Good communication in any situation requires work. Say what you need to with love, respect, and understanding to develop a relationship based on trust.

DISCLAIMER: This is a personal blog. This blog contains opinions and experiences. We are not doctors. If you feel you need help, please seek a professional. Please view our complete Disclaimer.


You Might Like...


Stacy is the mother of 3, step-mom of 3 and grandparent of 3. She retired as a project manager for a environmental laboratory. In her spare time she volunteers with her daughter's high school band. She has been developing websites for over 15 years, both for herself and others. Cooking, sewing, reading and history are just a few of her passions. Reading about history is a double passion!


  1. Another great article Stacy. This has been a really good series. Thanks.

  2. I actually write a great deal about my personal mental health over at Finding Crystal. I have been diagnosed with Severe recurrent depression with generalized anxiety, and although there’s no DSM diagnosis yet, food addiction. These are SPOT ON. Going back to read the best of this series.

    • Hi Crystal. Thank you for stopping in and reading. I’m sorry to hear about your diagnoses. I’ve already been to your site and nodded right along with much of what you wrote. and yes, Food Addiction is real. Stupid food. Can’t live with it.. can’t live without it.

  3. Very helpful article, Stacy. I wish the stigma about mental illness could be removed from society once and for all but it seems that there is still so much education to be done about this topic. I’m going to read your other posts and will definitely be recommending this to others. Thanks so much.

    • Thank you Robyn. I’ve never worried too much about the stigma or what others think but that may be because of the type of illnesses that I have. When you rarely leave your home, it’s easy to not notice what other’s are saying! Hope you have a terrific weekend ~Stacy

Leave a Reply to Robyn @ simply fresh dinners Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *