6 Things to Avoid Saying to Someone With a Mental Health Challenge

It’s often difficult to find the right words to say to a colleague or friend who’s struggling emotionally. But here are some (well-intentioned) cliches and homilies to steer clear of.

6 Things to Avoid Saying to Someone With a Mental Health Challenge
Things to Avoid Saying to Someone With a Mental Health Challenge

People do not leave their problems behind when they enter the workplace. A study by Optum in 2016 found that 46% of Indian employees suffer from some form of stress. Your people could be dealing with all kinds of issues, such as loss, illness, trauma, major life changes, and more. It can be difficult for managers to know exactly what to say to employees who are struggling.

Here are 6 statements to avoid saying to a colleague when they are in distress:

What Not to Say to Someone Who is Upset or Distressed

“Everything will be okay. You will be fine.”

When a person hears this, they might feel like you are not taking their feelings seriously. Some people might be dealing with a crisis or facing recurrent depressive episodes. When they are struggling with such heavy feelings, they might not be able to see the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.

Hence, rather than trying to make them feel better instantly, you can say: “I am here to listen to you.”

“Are you feeling depressed?”
“Are you feeling depressed?”

“Are you feeling depressed?”

Some years ago, a study by ASSOCHAM found that 43% of private-sector employees suffer from mental health challenges at work. Despite this, your colleagues might feel hurt if you take such a direct approach. It might come across as rude or insensitive.

Instead of jumping to any mental health diagnosis, you can say: “Are you comfortable sharing what you are dealing with?”

“Other people have it so much worse than you.”

This statement might be born from good intentions. It is often a way to make people see the bigger picture and give them a different perspective. Despite that, stating it can make an employee feel guilt or shame about their challenges.

Studies have found only 1 in 20 Indians who have a diagnosable mental health condition seek treatment for it. This is because there is a feeling of shame attached to seeking help. It is better to avoid comparing people’s experiences.

Therefore, a different way is to say something like: “This must be difficult for you, how are you coping with it?”

“I went through the same thing”
“I went through the same thing”

“I went through the same thing”

Your first reaction when you hear about someone’s suffering might be to share your own experience. You might wish to speak about the way that you solved the problem so that your colleague or friend can do the same.

This type of statement focuses more on the solution and takes away focus from the person who is going through a tough time. Rather than steering the conversation, you can try ‘Active Listening’ which allows you to put yourself in the shoes of the other person. It can also make them feel validated and heard.

This is what you can say to the person: “I am there for you, you are not alone.”

“It could be much worse, you should be grateful."

Toxic positivity is the process of dismissing negative emotions and responding to situations with a false sense of cheerfulness. When people are dealing with mental health challenges, they are often told to be grateful and see the positive side of things. This can make people feel like they have to hide their true feelings. Many employees may feel guilty about their emotions and instead pretend that everything is okay.

You can change this sentence to say: “Your feelings are valid.”

“But you have a good life; you always seem so happy."

Many people pretend to be okay and do not often feel comfortable talking about their emotions. This statement can reinforce the idea that they must keep their struggles a secret and not reach out for help.

Rather than saying this phrase, you can say: “I am glad that you reached out for support. How can I help you?”

Dealing with mental health challenges can be lonely. When someone feels heard and understood it can make all the difference in the world. Reframing your statements can be a small step in creating a supportive and emotionally safe atmosphere in the workplace.

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