It can be really hard knowing what to say to someone experiencing tough times. You care. You want to say the right thing to a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor who is going through difficulties. You want to be supportive, but knowing exactly what is and is not supportive can be tricky. Experiencing mental illness or even non-mental-illness-related general emotional upheaval can throw off someone’s entire world. It’s often inaccurate to say that life is turned upside down, for life doesn’t always hold still enough to even stay upside down. It twists and turns and spins out of control, taking the person with it. The last thing we ever want to do is make things worse. Yet there are helpful things to say to someone experiencing tough times, including mental health challenges.
Sometimes we don’t know how to handle our loved ones when they are wrestling with mental health challenges. Sometimes, for fear of making things worse, we say nothing. This, though, can be hurtful because it can make someone feel isolated and alone. Since we don’t want to be hurtful, we often decide to say something. Some things we say work better than others.
To help people help those loved ones in crisis or in a difficult period, people have written lists of what not to say. PsychCentral, for example, has an article available entitled 9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness. These tips of what not to say are indeed helpful.
However, although knowing what not to say is useful, it’s also important to know some things to say to someone experiencing mental illness or general tough times. To that end, I’ve compiled a list of 13 things to say to support and help someone going through tough times for any reason. They come from things that I’ve personally found helpful during my own tough times. They also come from conversations I’ve had when working with people, from conversations about what is and isn’t helpful and how to respond to a variety of comments. (They’re also incorporated into the dialogue of my novels as my stories are drawn from real life.)
Try saying things like this, or a variation thereof:
13 Things to Say to Someone Experiencing Tough Times
- I know you’re hurting.
- We’re going to get through this together, my friend.
- You are very important to a lot of people.
- You’re a good person who deserves to be well.
- Maybe it’s time to let go of the past and embrace your new self and your new friends.
- You got this. Believe in yourself.
- Maybe we can take a walk, side by side.
- Let’s talk about it. We’re just going to have a conversation, and it’s a very safe one.
- You’re my friend. Let’s go _________ together.”
- “C’mon. Let’s go find help (or make a phone call) together.”
- I will talk to you any time you’d like.
- Well, we really haven’t talked or anything in a while. I guess I just wanted to see how things were going with you.
- I want to help you. Please talk to me when you’re ready.
What these statements have in common
There is a theme that runs through these things to say to someone experiencing tough times. They’re not earth-shattering. They’re not therapy. Their theme is support and the offer of presence and a listening ear.
Books can also be tools for understanding and communication. Journals, for example help people gather and express thoughts and feelings. Journaling with someone is a powerful way to connect, talk, and understand. When two people sit together and complete their own copy of the same journal, they can pause and share tidbits of themselves with each other. What a way to feel validated, heard, and supported.