I have no doubt that when someone says ‘There’s always someone worse off’ that it does in fact come from a well-meaning and kind-hearted person whose intentions are to be caring and compassionate. However…
1. Most people are well aware that there are others suffering from worse situations and illnesses and, like myself, would probably choose their own problems over others’ if everybody threw their problems, issues and complaints into a ring.
2. It is not helpful! Those five simple words trivialise what the person is going through, as if their current situation is actually not important or difficult to manage. Whatever someone is experiencing, whether it be big or small, is important.
3. It can have a detrimental effect on people who are struggling with their personal issues or who are suffering from depression, stress or anxiety. It can cause them to think that their personal experience is not justified and that maybe their feelings and emotions are not genuine or real so they don’t deserve to receive the compassion and care they need. Illnesses can then go untreated because the person may think they are not worthy of the attention required because ‘there’s always someone worse off’!
4. It reeks of ‘Get over it!’ and can be like a door slammed in the face, even when this is not the intention. It comes across as insensitive, not supportive.
5. Such a phrase can stop people talking about their issues and internalising their problems which can lead to self-doubt, self-guilt, self-blame, self-shame and self-trivialising.
‘There’s always someone worse off’ can be a helpful message for people to tell themselves in order to gain a better perspective on presenting problems, but not so helpful from someone else. It is crucial that people are not made to feel like their problems are trivial and it is essential that the stigma attached to mental health is removed so people feel comfortable and confident reaching out to receive the care they need.
Although you may not completely understand what they are going through, if you know someone who is struggling with their current situation show your support by acknowledging the difficulty they are experiencing and by validating their feelings, but don’t tell them ‘there is always someone worse off’, that is irrelevant!