Please don’t tell us to “be positive”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Those who are close to someone suffering a mental illness struggle too. And I believe one of the biggest struggles they face is not knowing how to help.

Now, I could write a lot on this as someone who has both needed help, and someone who has wanted to give help to others. But there’s one thing that comes up a lot in the comment section on my blog that today I have found myself without patience for.

The type of comment that tells me chin up, and be positive.

Don’t get me wrong – I will always recognise good intentions. Those of you who do say this are saying it because you want to help and this is how you can. But it actually does more harm than good, if you’ll allow me to explain.

First of all, I write a blog about living with Bipolar. And sometimes my experiences are downright dark and scary. They are my living nightmares. And I have made it my aim with this blog to talk about it openly and honestly. I will not exaggerate any experience, and I will not soften it or make it more gentle. So sometimes I will have dark posts that make you worry, and make you want to tell me to be positive. But I will tell you I am a very positive person. Without confidence, I could not share my experiences. Without my strong will, I would not be alive today. And telling me to be positive is telling me that I should write differently, and make my experiences seem less scary, less real, for you.

You see, when you tell someone to be positive you’re telling them that they shouldn’t feel the way that they do. You’re telling them that you don’t like how they think and you want them to change. Which is all well and good for someone who is sane. But we know the way we think is wrong. That’s kind of why it’s called a severe disorder.

Telling us to be positive is useless, perhaps even harmful. If you want to show that you care, you should just tell us that you’re sorry that we’re going through this and ask if you can help. Tell us how strong we are for managing day after day, and don’t tell us how to improve.

Sometimes the best thing for someone is to allow them to just have those bad experiences. Let them accept that they happened, and move on from them as they see fit. Let them grieve for their loss of sanity, or their very real depression.

Although these experiences have all been caused by bad action in the brain, the grief is just as real. Would you be ok with someone telling you to be positive straight after someone you loved had died?

3 thoughts on “Please don’t tell us to “be positive”

  1. It is one of the most frudtrating things to deal with – well-meaning sentiments. I have a close family member ask me each time i get excited or happy if im hypomanic. Ive learned to laugh it off but i think i have it down to something more distilled – those comments make me feel lonely when it comes from soemone so close to me. Ive learned to be patient and in the end look more to myself and my condition to try and help explain, better, what it means , what it feels, to be bipolar.
    Your post was really well written. I connected with it.


  2. I agree with what you say. “Be positive”, although well intentioned, is a comment from those who really don’t understand that depression, mental “illness”, bi polar… is not merely about a positive mindset. “Be positive” is a comment made by those whose bodies do not stuff up the chemicals that make it “work” and that affect the brain. I am so aware of the body chemistry balance influences on brain activity as being a type 1 Diabetic when my bsl gets really low it can (not always) affect me so much… not just dizziness, mouth numbness etc but WEIRD BEHAVIOUR …..sometimes. I have been known to bang my head repeatedly against a window (only ever happened once,,, strange), rip my clothes off (fortunately at home and aware enough by the time the ambulance arrived to put a dressing gown on), irritability, yelling incomprehensible words, a sense of being completely overwhelmed … and others. The point is it certainly gives me an insight into the body chemistry influence on behaviour. My unpredictable, inconsistant types of “weirdness” can be treated with glucose… I am lucky. But although I actually find it interesting it can also be embarrassing, upsetting, annoying…….all those things and people who see me at such times are quick to judge. For me it is temporary but within that time I certainly cannot just decide to “get over it” and be “positive”. The body chemical/hormonal balance must return to balance first… only then can I “think” my way through things. But it will pass. So Joy I would not say it is as simple as “be positive”…. I acknowledge the anguish, the difficulty, that you do not want to have the low times and the need for people to be kindest when you are at your lowest. … to be patient, to be there for you but to let you be who you are and accept you for that. You do well to write to help others understand. By the way did you rad my friend’s poem I put on my blog last week…. Black dog…. be gone. She is a lovely lady, like you well educated, a great ability to express herself, a LOVELY caring person, whose life is more challenging, and more interesting because of her mental illness. Go to you won’t have to scroll down far on the home page to find it.



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