While someone who is dealing with a cold or the flu is visibly ill, not all diseases are so outwardly obvious. Over 117 million Americans live with a chronic illness that impacts how they live, even if other people can't see it.
In the latest Vlogbrothers video, Hank Green talks about the Ulcerative Colitis he's been living with for over a decade and the unsolicited advice he often receives about how to manage his condition. Even though the person may have nothing but the best of intentions when offering up their opinion, throwing out a suggestion is, on some level, assigning blame to the situation.
In response, Hank has a very clear message for those who deal with chronic conditions: Your illness is not your fault.
Check out Hank's emphatic video here:
While Hank is talking about his own condition, the same sentiment can be applied to those battling mental illness. Too often, someone dealing with depression will be told, "You just need to think positively!" Those with ADHD will hear, "You just need the discipline to concentrate!" People with anxiety are told, "Just stop thinking so much about it!"
It's just not that easy. Someone with a mental illness can no more will themselves out of it than someone can cure a disease with a fad diet.
Of course, most of these people don't mean to be offensive, they just probably don't know what to say. It's a difficult thing to see someone you care about struggling with something and there is a real need to try and fix it for them.
For many, there just isn't going to be a complete fix, even if it can be managed. It's just how things are.
So what should you say to someone who has a mental illness or chronic condition?
"Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"I'm very sorry you're not feeling well."
"Man, that really sucks."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Remember: a little compassion always goes a long way.
Cover image: Screenshot, Vlogbrothers