“How are you?”
Ah, yes. I’m fine. It’s become an automatic response but also is one of the most common lies people tell. How often do we really mean everything is fine? If it’s not true, why do we say it?
We say those two little words, “I’m fine,” because it’s what’s expected of us. From a young age, many of us are taught to bottle up our emotions and give the illusion that everything is perfect. This is especially true when one has a non-visible illness, such as a mental health disorder.
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The untruth of “I’m fine” although seemingly harmless, can be the source of a great deal of emotional stress and trauma. It separates us from the real truth of how we actually feel and instead surrounds us with a wall, causing our feelings and emotions to whirl around inside leading to further pain and sorrow.
It’s time to break down the barriers, unmask the perceived realities, and understand that no one is perfect, that we are exactly who we’re supposed to be. Emotions are normal. They are nothing to be ashamed of and should be taken seriously. No one should go through life suffering in silence because of stigma.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1 in 4 American adults suffers from a mental health condition in any given year, however only about half seek treatment. We need to come to together as a community and support those around us. We all face adversity at various points in our lives and we all cope in different ways. Lend a hand. Listen. Be supportive.
The next time someone says “I’m fine” but the nonverbal cues suggest something different, gently confront their true emotions. Help them let down their defensive shell by using some of these phrases:
• “I’m here for you.”
• “You’re not alone in this.”
• “You are important to me.”
• “Do you want a hug?”
• “I sense everything is not OK, but I am here for you.”
Your expression of interest and concern might encourage them to open up, or maybe it won’t. Regardless, the person you are speaking with will know that you care about them and they have someone safe to talk with should they ever wish to do so.
It’s time to open our hearts and minds, be understanding, and avoid judgment when people are in emotional need. We can lead by example. The next time you are asked “How are you?” think twice before giving the automatic response. Be willing to say, “I’m having a tough day, but thanks for asking.” This answer doesn’t invite advice or help, but it is honest. And your honesty may encourage someone who is struggling to reach out for help and support.