9 Things Not To Say To Your Students With A Mental Illness

Also, find what to say instead if they share their problems with you.



Commemorating World Mental Health Day (10 October 2020), an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma, let’s tell you what NOT to say in a classroom (physical or virtual) while communicating with your students (of any age group).

As teachers, it becomes imperative for you to recognise the signs of mental illness amongst your students. The task definitely becomes tedious when it comes to identifying them during online classes, however, as a facilitator, you should at least know what to say and what not to say so your words don't trigger the child or harm their health even more.

“It’s all in your head.”

If a student opens up to you and says he’s afraid of the exams and is feeling anxious, don’t say – ‘it’s in your head.” It isn’t just technically wrong but also makes you ignorant towards the physical symptoms the child may be showing.


“Stop complaining.”

Some kids may enjoy filling that school complain-box with vain comments but this is not the case when it comes to one's personal grumbling, grudging and self-loathing. The reason could be darker and more substantial than you think.

“Put your head down for half an hour.”

No, this is not a coping mechanism. Sleeping or distracting the mind doesn’t necessarily work in everyone's case. As an adult, we must know that we cannot just cut mental illness out of our system.

“Look at your classmates, they’re so happy.”


Never compare one child to another. You don’t know what their personal lives look like and what kind of parenting they’re nurtured under.

“Things could be worse.”

Well, their problem may seem small to you but it has the power to trigger other kinds of deadly anxieties in kids who know nothing about mental health.  

“Keep quiet.”

This is one of the most common and dismissive comments made by teachers around the world. Letting them speak their heart out is the first step towards their advancement.


“What happened today? You’re always happy otherwise.”

Every day is a different day and statements like this can truly prove to be damaging and fill them with guilt. Tell them it's okay to not feel okay sometimes.

“Remember we read – This too shall pass?”

Didn’t we also read – easier said than done?

“Are you insane? Mental?”


First thing first, using the word ‘mental’ is demeaning to the people with special needs. These aren’t cussing words. If you think speaking these words to the students in front of the entire class is going to make them brave and become responsible, you’re wrong. Also, not using these words will help remove the stigma we’ve around mental health issues.

So, what should you say instead?

  1. Thank you for sharing with me.
  2. Thank you for trusting me with your personal matter.
  3. You can come to me anytime to have a conversation.
  4. I will not share your concern with anyone without your consent.
  5. I’m listening, go on.
  6. Do you want me to discuss this with your parents?
  7. Do you want to take professional help?
  8. Remember that I love you. You’re a bright child.
  9. I’m proud of you for asking for help.
  10. You’re brave, no one should go through what you’re experiencing.
  11. You’re not alone.

Is this article helpful? Tell us how you're supporting your students, especially during the pandemic period, when almost everyone we know is undergoing some sort of mental dilemma. 


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