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Readers Respond: Helpful Things People Say That Are - Or Aren't - Helpful

Responses: 21


Updated June 29, 2014

Often people say things to someone in the throes of a bipolar depressive episode that they think are helpful - but they aren't. Then again, some people know exactly the right thing to say. About Bipolar Disorder readers share the best and the worst of things people say to be helpful to a depressed person. Add your own to the list, too. Share Yours

Did they really say that?

I have learned the hard way, being on the receiving end of "helpful statements", that the best thing I can do when I see someone hurting is "I'm your friend. I love you. I'll be praying for you." (NOTE: If you say you'll pray for someone...actually praying for them is part of the deal!) I lost my Daddy and sister/best friend within 5 months of each other. Both were suffering from terminal illness and were in pain, with poor quality of life due to their heath conditions. It amazes me how many people said to me "He/She is better off. They were suffering." REALLY? Did you just tell me that this person I love more than the whole world is BETTER OFF DEAD? Think before you speak....I know they are no longer suffering, but I didn't need to hear that WHILE STANDING IN FRONT OF THEIR COFFIN! It's kinda like yelling at a person in a wheelchair....it's just ignorance. It's also noteworthy to remember IT'S NOT MY JOB TO TRY TO "FIX THEIR STUPID." Real friends will educate and help...

lots of people feel the same way

I'm not bipolar, I have unipolar depression and PTSD, but one of the upsetting things someone said while I was in crisis was 'there are a lot of people who feel the same way as you'. I'm a very empathetic person and when she said that, not only was I feeling sad for my own reasons, but now I was feeling sad thinking of all the other people who were just as sad as me. I've noticed the same with my brother, who also has depression - if one of us is depressed, it brings the other one down too.
—Guest Ettina

Family responses

I recently had a family member talk to me after an extravagant, reckless manic episode. They said "before you make a decision, just ask yourself is this right or is this wrong?" The indignity and sheer humiliation was only heightened by this comment.
—Guest Holly

How are you?

Sometimes those 3 words push me into a panic. If I am not well I think, "I am so sick of lying and saying I am ok. So do I lie or tell the truth and be reminded they don't really care. Either way I lose. Sometimes, when someone says to me, "have a nice day," I will respond with, "No thanks, I have other plans." Most of the time they don't even notice. But one time, the young lady looked at me and said she was sorry I was having a bad time today. How refreshing!

Crisis cuff responses by therapists

When in crisis I just have to love those off the cuff responses by my therapist who of people is 'trained' to know better...Like "Get a grip" "its not as bad as you think" "You're overreacting if you expect my support extends to you when in crisis" "that's good that you seek support from suicide hotlines for support when in crisis" What?!? Oh and I just love this last one...when I'm charmed with suicidal ideation during crisis, his response is to encourage me to practice self soothing exercises! The last time I called him clearly on the edge of committing suicide, he did nothing. Had it not been for an acquaintance...I'd have been dead. He never called the hospital--not me, not my doctor, not a nurse to see even if I had survived. And I've been with him for almost two years because experience as shown me they're all the same. So why let another "professional therapist" whose just going to prove another letdown? But then do I have any choice? [Guide's note: They are NOT all the same. Why are you wasting yourself on this jerk? Get to work finding someone better. They DO exist.]
—Guest Guest Amy

best response ever

Mental health professionals have been the source of the most painful responses I've ever received! On the other hand, after seeing me struggle for many years, my mother listened to my frustration one day & simply said, "I don't understand--but I believe you." That was probably THE most healing thing I've ever been told.
—Guest N

Share Yours

I love what you said about someone just doing something for you when you're depressed. When you can't lift a finger because your in too much pain. That's exactly what I need, not useless platitudes. Or, worse yet, "just get over it." Thank you for this article. It really helped me feel like somebody DOES understand.
—Guest Kristen

First aid kit

Recently a therapist suggested I put together a "first aid kit" for when I was depressed. When I'm not depressed or manic, I know some things that help me feel better. But I can't think of them when I'm having an episode. So now I have a box that contains several of my favorite comedy movies, some music CDs, and other healthy things (not bags of candy bars!) that don't take a lot of energy but get me out of the worst of my depression. My episodes are short--I guess that's called rapid cycling--and that may be the reason this approach works for me. It stops the downward spiral that leads to hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. For me, laughter and music are powerful remedies. And my first aid kit keeps them ready for when I need them.

My Mom

Always used to say, "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!" She never did understand but ironically I inherited my problems from her.

How can I help?

I agree with you, Marcia, that that IS a helpful thing to say, as long as the person really means it. I've had a couple people ask that recently who, when I actually named something that I needed help with, then looked at me like I was crazy. I guess they'd expected me to appreciate the offer but not take them up on it!

What works for me:

It personally drives me crazy when people say, "You need help." I already know that. I need someone to find out where I need to go and make the phone call for me, as all I'm capable of doing when depressed is sitting in a dark room ruminating. I agree that doing things is more helpful than saying things. I like to think of depression as being much like the flu. First of all, it's a REAL illness (a lot of people don't believe that depression is real)!!!! There's nothing I can do to stop it, but I can bring some soup and orange juice and some cold medicine to show that I care. Just be there. Open the blinds. Bring a cute dog and convince me to go for a walk with you. Take me to a movie. Just get me out of the house and let me think about something else for a while. Again, it can't cure me, but it can be a relief to know someone cares.
—Guest Bridget

That's normal

I'm often told by my relations that the depression/hypomania that I experience is quite normal!!! Normal people have their ups and downs......it's not the medication, it's not the Bi-polar.....it's what happens in life!!! Yeah right!!
—Guest That's normal

Things not to say

My oldest brother once said to me after I was diagnosed Bipolar after a weeks stay in the hospital. " I get depressed too, get over it". Yeah ok, thanks, I didn't realize it was that easy. He has no clue how close the cliff gets on the downswings!
—Guest Jim58

Just put away those depressing things ..

I took my daughter with me one time to my shrink visit. Daughter mentioned that I get sad thinking about things in the past - bro, mom and dad all dead. Suggestion was made to put all my precious things, pictures and stuff and put them in a box away so I won't bed reminded by them. WHAT? Take away what I also enjoy? Take away my memories? I was dumbfounded. I couldn't speak. I was shocked. Put away my family? My life? Might as well say, that arm looks like it's bothering you, let's cut it off and then you won't have to look at it and won't be depressed anymore. Needless to say it caused a big rift in my relationship with my daughter and I told the shrink that I would NEVER allow another family member to attend a session. I can get pissed at her, but I love my family and I almost lost my daughter. Put them away? How about, do you have a way of honoring them? My old shrink told me to do that and not feel bad. To light a candle when I needed too...that was better.
—Guest Michele

You don't pray enough

I'm a spiritual person and I attend church. When I try to explain about my condition they say God will heal me. I feel that God knows what I need. I have found a wonderful doctor and medication that finally works. This gives me hope and I thank God that he has provided a way for me to feel better.
—Guest giraffe1952

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Helpful Things People Say That Are - Or Aren't - Helpful

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