Why unsolicited advice isn’t always helpful to someone living with a mental illness
Awareness means being mindful and accountable of how our actions and words impact other people.
A few months ago I was sitting at the dentist waiting to get day surgery. I ended up spending my pre-surgery wait time giving a friend advice on how to support their sister who recently got diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The conversation gave me the idea for writing a series of articles on how to genuinely support a person living with a mental illness or addiction issue.
When we’re mindful of how the things we say affects a person’s treatment and recovery we learn to support someone in a way which will help them grow instead of using things such as micro aggressions and insults.
When we support others it’s important to do things to build them up and not tear them down. This approach helps people feel comfortable with being open about their struggles.
The first step is looking at types of advice that is more harmful than helpful for someone living with a mental illness.
Here are a few examples of unhealthy unsolicited advice which are common forms of advice given by people.
- Pill shaming
- Thinking you are more qualified to support or diagnose someone better than a medical professional because you’ve known someone along time
- “Get over it”
- “Everyone is a little ADHD”
- Comparing clinical depression and anxiety to having a bad day
- “Walk it off”
- “Look on the bright side”
These are just a few examples of toxic advice people give to someone diagnosed with a mental illness. The above examples and other similar forms of advice only lead to a person feeling shame and embarrassment.
Unsolicited advice can lead people into thinking their struggles are nothing more than a flaw. In reality, they’re caused by a medical condition and not because of a character flaw or weakness.
Instead of offering advice such as the above examples when speaking to an individual living with a mental illness. Remember the following tips to properly support a person living with a mental illness.
- Meeting them where they are instead of making assumptions based on your own beliefs and life experience. Show a person you’re willing to listen because when you live with a mental illness.
- Don’t belittle their medical condition through microaggressions such as “walk it off!” These are condescending to a person living with a mental illness.
- Instead of mocking them for their struggles or for seeking professional help, try telling them your proud of them for having the courage to seek professional help. Plus it’s perfectly fin to be open about their struggles.
- Practice constructive not destructive criticism and own your actions by learning from your biases instead of confirming your biases.
- If you’ve struggled with mental illness or substance abuse issues. Remember, what works for you may not work for your friend or family member. It’s important to give advice based on what works and doesn’t work for them.
- Use healthy language such as instead of saying crazy or mellow dramatic use language which fosters hope and shows empathy.
- Don’t pill shame and pressure someone to stop taking medication. Supplements aren’t helpful; here is an article about a study by John Hopkins about why supplements aren’t a safe alternative for actual medication.
- Don’t be one of those people who posts mental health hashtags then does nothing in their actual life to advocate for mental health.
- Practice patience and understanding towards individuals living with a mental illness
- Advocate for professional support such as therapists and other medical professionals and remember we all deal with things differently and at our own speed.
I’ve been in rehab two times for substance abuse issues. Besides that, I am diagnosed with ADHD and social anxiety. I can confidently say one of the hardest thing about living with a mental illness is you feel no one cares about how the things they say affect your wellbeing.
This quote applies not only to depression but every form of mental illness. In addition, it’s important we take our personal responsibility seriously while being mindful of how the things we say impact other people.
“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is; like the weather.
Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry