You care. You want to say the right thing to a friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor who is going through a difficult time. 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.
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’re gathered from novels I’ve written, because those books are meant to realistically portray mental health challenges for the main characters and those in their lives. They’re fiction, yes, but they are also very real. The characters say things to each other that are helpful in the real world. Without further ado…
13 Things to Say to Someone Experiencing Tough Times
- “I know you’re hurting.” (Penelope to Oliver, Leave of Absence)
- “We’re going to get through this together, my friend.” (Penelope to Oliver, Leave of Absence)
- “You are very important to a lot of people.” (Penelope to Oliver, Leave of Absence)
- “You’re a good person who deserves to be well.” (Oliver to Penelope, Leave of Absence)
- “Maybe it’s time to let go of the past and embrace your new self and your new friends.” (Oliver to Penelope, Leave of Absence.”
- “You got this. Believe in yourself.” (Roger to Brian, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel)
- “Maybe we can both walk side by side.” (Brian to Abigail, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel)
- “Let’s talk about it. We’re just going to have a conversation, and it’s a very safe one.” (Dr. Greene to Brian, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel)
- “You’re my friend, Brian, and I’m yours. Let’s go play in the rain.” (Abigail to Brian, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel)
- “C’mon. Let’s open the door together.” (Sammi to Brian, My Life in a Nutshell: A Novel)
- “I will talk to you any time you’d like.” (Sarah to Elizabeth, Losing Elizabeth)
- “Well, we really haven’t talked or anything in a while. I guess I just wanted to see how things were going with you.” (Meg to Elizabeth, Losing Elizabeth)
- I want to help you. Please talk to me when you’re ready.” (Meg to Elizabeth, Losing Elizabeth)
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.