24 Things to Never Say to Someone With Coronavirus
You have the best intentions when talking to people who are suffering from an illness—and you likely know someone touched by the coronavirus. However, even the best-intentioned compliments, comments, suggestions or advice we give others can be insulting, hurtful or simply make them feel worse about their suffering.
You don’t know what they’re going through. And they might not know where you’re coming from. Here are 24 things you should think twice about saying to someone who has COVID-19 or another illness.
"Disease is all in the mind"
While research does support a mind-body connection with some chronic illnesses (for example, stress can contribute to heart conditions) most health conditions, including COVID-19, are totally real and their formation has little to do with what is going on in the brain.
"I thought you were all better now"
Even if a few months have passed since somebody suffered a traumatic injury or health condition, never assume they are "all better." "I had one salon owner say to me, 'Oh, I thought you were recovered and healed' just a few months after I suffered a stroke!" Denise Baron, healer and Ayurvedic expert says. “Meanwhile, it was almost three years until I was totally recovered.” In fact, doctors are finding some residual coronavirus symptoms can last months.
"Have you tried …"
Chances are the answer is yes. Most people who are suffering from COVID-19 or a chronic condition have tried pretty much everything imaginable to get better. And so far, there is no cure for coronavirus. Feel free to share links to interesting findings from reputable sources, but don't presume you know best.
"Come on, have something to eat!"
COVID-19 sufferers often lose their appetite—and their sense of taste. While it's important for them to nourish themselves, they may not want to be told to eat. When someone is sick, they shouldn’t have to explain to you why they can’t eat or drink specific items. “I wasn’t cutting calories, or being trendy by omitting gluten,” points out journalist and author Christine Coppa, who survived thyroid cancer. “I was trying to get well. Truth is, I inhaled a pizza after I got the all-clear!”
"Let me give you some medical advice"
Unless you have a medical accreditation after your name, please refrain from giving others medical advice. Other than urging them to see a professional, any medical advice you give somebody could be hazardous to their health.
"You should try exercising"
Most people are aware that exercise is beneficial for many physical and mental health conditions, but oftentimes it isn't quite that easy for someone who is sick to work up a sweat.
"You don't look sick"
Despite what you might think, there is no common “look” to sickness or COVID-19. According to the CDC, 60 percent of Americans live with a chronic disease, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. It is important to keep in mind that while many people might be silently suffering, illnesses don’t necessarily include visible symptoms. While you might be trying to make someone feel better by telling them they don’t appear sick, it could potentially make them feel as though you are discounting their suffering.
"Oh, I know how you feel"
Pain and suffering are not universal, so there is no way that you can know exactly what someone is going through — even if you have suffered the exact same illness. "Everyone experiences illness differently," Matthew Mintz, MD, points out. "The illness experience is a combination of pathology (the actual disease process causing the illness), genetics/host susceptibility (how your body reacts), culture, previous illness experience, and a host of other factors." Instead of saying that you know how someone is feeling he suggests alternatives like "oh, that sounds awful," or "I can understand why you don't feel well."
"Please call me if you need anything"
Don't expect a sick person to ask for help. Not only do a lot of people have too much pride to ask you for a favor, keep in mind that they are sick — so they probably aren't even thinking properly. "I had one person ask me why I didn't ask them for help after I suffered a stroke," Baron says. "Hello! My brain wasn't exactly working properly enough to even ask." Don't wait for someone to ask you for help. Most people aren’t going to call you up and ask for chicken soup, but if you simply order a food delivery for them, they are going to be grateful and will happily slurp it down.
"Positive thinking can help cure you!"
Positive thinking may be powerful, but there is no, absolutely no scientific evidence that your personality or attitude can cure illness. Most pain and symptoms associated with illness are very real, and can't be cured by thinking on the bright side.
"My thoughts and prayers are with you"
On every social media post where someone discloses a medical condition, these exact words pop up numerous times. While it's well-intentioned and perfectly acceptable, it can come off as insincere. Try rephrasing your feelings into something a little more personal if you want to let someone know you care about them.
"At least you don’t have anything really bad"
For whatever reason, many people discount invisible illnesses such as fibromyalgia, ADHD or even depression, as being, well, invisible. And they've heard COVID-19 is "just a bad flu." However, in actuality, they are incredibly real for the people who suffer from them.
"You are going to beat this"
In a perfect world, everyone would recover from sickness. However, while you might think that telling someone that they are going to recover is motivating and uplifting, it may in fact apply pressure on them to recover quickly.
"Maybe you don't want to get well"
It can be frustrating watching a loved one suffer, especially if it seems like they aren't doing everything you think they can do to help themselves. But never, ever imply that they want to be sick. McCoppin points out that her suffering is far from a nonstop party. "Losing our careers, credibility, looks and spending all of our money on doctors isn't exactly awesome," she explains. The only thing worse? Having a friend imply that it is your choice.
"What's wrong with you?"
How you phrase a question can make such a difference, especially if someone is suffering from a mental health condition, or a mental health issue related to COVID-19. "This question frequently makes an individual feel even more abnormal, as if they are the only one suffering from an ailment," warns Certified Trauma Specialist Theresa M. Peronace-Onorato, MACP, SAC at Anchor Points Counseling in Huntington Valley, PA.
"Often this phrase places blame on the patient assuming they caused a particular condition." She suggests taking a more supportive and trauma-informed approach, perhaps by gently asking them, "Can you tell me what's happened to you?" Keep in mind that issues of mental health, and even many physical conditions, are rarely self-inflicted.
"You shouldn't take medication"
Peronace-Onorato claims that she often hears stories about concerned friends and family members making medication recommendations to their loved ones. "For some patients medication is life changing and greatly increases an individual's quality of life and daily functioning," she explains. Similarly, she often hears, "My family member is doing great now. They no longer need their medication." While this can be true in some cases, such as short-term medication management when grieving a sudden death for example, this isn't always helpful when a chemical imbalance is present. "In the latter situation, the family members aren't realizing that their loved one is doing much better because of the medication."
"It could be a lot worse"
Of course, everything could be a lot worse, but saying those words isn't going to make a sick person feel any better. Instead, try using positive affirmations, suggests Bhaswati Bhattacharya, MPH, MD, Ph.D., Clinical Assistant Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. "Say something like, 'If you focus on the immunity you do have, you can appreciate that you were born with a good strong body, and need to return to that level of strength. You have it in you!"
"At least you are losing weight! You look great"
Commenting on an individual's weight is rarely a healthy practice, but especially when it is the result of a health condition. Weight loss and gain is a common side effect of many illnesses and medication, and bringing attention to it isn't going to flatter anyone—it will just remind them of their suffering. If you want to pay them a compliment, rephrase it in a way that really makes them feel good. "Say something like, 'It is wonderful that you look so great. Having the mental strength that you do really shines through," suggests Dr. Bhattacharya.
"Everything happens for a reason"
As human beings, we want to be able to make sense out of everything. We often try and remind people that their suffering might have a greater purpose or that it is occurring to teach them a lesson that will make them a better person. However, in the midst of their suffering, most people don't want or need to be reminded of this. It can also be misinterpreted to mean that they were "meant" to get sick, or even that they deserved it.
"I know someone who has COVID-19 too, and this is what they did"
You are only trying to help, but keep in mind that many illnesses don’t have a one-size-fits-all cure. While your mother’s, friend’s, cousin’s husband could have been diagnosed with the same ailment as the person you are speaking with, it’s very possible their symptoms weren’t the same, they were on completely different medications before their diagnosis, or their side effects were drastically different.
"It will be fine. Just don't think about it and pretend like it's not happening"
You might think you are helping someone keep their mind off their illness, but "it" is happening and being in denial doesn't help. "It is likely the sick person is thinking about very little else and telling them to the opposite of their reality makes them feel disconnected and shamed," points out San Diego based therapist and founder of The Relationship Place, Dana McNeil, LMFT.
"Just suck it up and deal with it"
When you discount a sick person’s condition it can really hurt. “Having an illness is scary and makes the person feel vulnerable,” Dr. McNeil points out.
"You just don't seem like yourself"
When someone is sick — even if they are suffering from something as simple as the common cold — there's a good chance they will act out of character. "It's likely the sick person doesn't feel like themselves either and pointing out the changes may feel judgmental," says Dr. McNeil.
Saying nothing at all!
The worst thing you can possibly do if a person you care about is sick is nothing at all. Ghosting the person or not checking in on them, can make them feel incredibly isolated. "Check in with the sick person to let them know you are thinking about them and wanting to know how they are doing," encourages Dr. McNeil. "When we avoid talking about the illness, it gives the other person the impression they may be burdening you with talking about their illness leaving them feeling abandoned or alienated."
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.