If you have a loved one who’s suffering from a mental illness, you might want to help them out. If you have a mental illness yourself, you’ve hopefully had people reach out to you to let you know you are loved and supported. However, many people who offer mental health advice are either ignorant to how mental illnesses work. Some pieces of advice even worsen the stigma against mental illness. That means the advice you’re giving to your loved ones could actually be making them feel worse about themselves. I’ve dealt with unsolicited, dangerous advice more times than I can count. It’s annoying and frustrating. Here are some of my “favorite” pieces of “expert” advice that aren’t really helping.
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“Stop taking your meds.”
See also: “Medication is a mask, not a cure,” “Meds change who you really are,” “Big Pharma is out for your money, and that’s why you’re being prescribed medication.”
Unless you are our doctor, psychiatrist, or on our team of mental healthcare providers, you have no authority to tell us what to do with our medication. In fact, suggestions that we should stop taking our medication can seriously harm us. Withdrawal effects can occur from stopping medication without proper supervision. People who offer this advice often forget that mental illnesses are legitimate medical conditions, and the medications we take can improve our quality of life drastically. For example, SSRIs help patients by improving the function of the brain’s nerve cells, since the parts of the brain that control mood and utilize serotonin might not be functioning properly. If you don’t suffer from a mental illness and don’t need to take an SSRI, your body is probably already utilizing serotonin correctly. Everyone needs serotonin- some people just need more help with utilizing it. If medications are part of our prescribed treatment plan, that’s because the professionals who are treating us feel that it’s best for us.
“I’m studying psychology- I’m qualified to tell you what’s wrong with you.”
See also: “My Intro to Psychology professor says…,” “My mom is a nurse and she says…”
It’s wonderful that you’re seeking out knowledge on mental illnesses through your loved ones and through education! We need people like you to advance our understanding of how these conditions work. However, since you’re not our doctor, you don’t know our story. You don’t have our paperwork on what has worked and what hasn’t. Even if we’re very close to you, there are probably things we haven’t told you. After all, medical information is private! You’ve read a few books and took a few classes, but you’re still not authorized to tell us how to handle ourselves. Also, if you’re a college student or an otherwise unlicensed individual, you have not right trying to place a diagnosis on us. It’ll hold no weight when we try to seek treatment because professionals know that our mom’s best friend’s daughter who’s going for her B.S. in Psychology isn’t qualified to diagnose us. (Please remember that because I’m not a licensed professional, I’m not qualified to give you a diagnosis, either. I write based on light research and my personal experiences).
“You might be possessed by supernatural beings.”
See also: “You have demons,” “I know someone who can remove those negative entities from you.”
This suggestion gets thrown around more often than I imagined it would be. The first time someone suggested that I was possessed was in the 10th grade, and I had an ex-boyfriend tell me that if I didn’t remove the demon that was inside of me, it would kill me. A few days ago, I received an unsolicited message from a random woman who said “when I first heard that you suffer from mental illness, the first thing that came to mind was that you have entities inside you.” I’m a secular Jew (I don’t believe in God, but I identify with Judaism as a culture since my family does, too). I don’t believe in spirits, demons, or the supernatural. However, some people do, so I’m not going to dismiss those people’s belief systems. The big issue with this suggestion is that it is being forced upon people. It would be different if a person sought out a Shamanistic healer to help them out, but it’s pretty offensive for someone to reach out to us. That’s because the idea of us being possessed brings people more shame and causes people to be ostracized. There are obviously negative connotations tied to negative entities and demons. Please don’t label us as broken. You’re only making it harder for us to be accepted by ourselves and others. P.S.: Spiritual healing isn’t going to help someone who is not spiritual.
There are plenty of other unhelpful pieces of advice that get thrown around a lot. I’d love to hear some of the things that other people have told you to do. Sharing these stories will help people understand how to support people with a mental illness better.