Laura talks about some of her experiences when talking to friends about her mental health, and how we can all learn from them to help others.
I’ve always had a policy of being entirely frank and open about my mental illness with my flatmates and my friends. I think it makes it easier for them to understand when I’m having a not-so-great day, and I don’t believe mental health should be something that people hide and are ashamed of. However, through being quite open and honest about my good days, bad days and the treatment that I’m going through, I’ve encountered a couple of things that aren’t very helpful for people with mental health issues.
1. Giving Their (Non-Medical) Advice For Treatment:
I appreciate that you’re interested enough in me to ask about how my treatment is going, and whether things are working out for me, as it’s really nice and I do find it helpful to talk through things, but please don’t tell me whether or not I should be taking medication. With all due respect, the etiquette with conspiracy theories tends to be don’t mention them unless you’re asked, and I am confident that between my doctor and myself we can figure out any problems. Additionally, asking me about my worries about medication is probably not an excellent strategy for someone with an anxiety disorder.
2. Suggesting That Lifestyle Changes, Such As Going To The Gym Or Eating Better, Will Fix It:
Again, I appreciate your concern and interest, but doing more exercise and eating better will not make my medically diagnosed illness go away. They’re definitely useful strategies for helping with some of the symptoms of my illness, but they’re not cures or fix-alls. A lot of people like to couple my first point along with this point, which I think is ridiculous. Someone with tonsillitis might have their recovery aided by eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, but getting your five-a-day isn’t going to make it go away, and mental illness should be no different.
3. Telling Me That I Should Appreciate What I Have, Because Other People Have It Worse:
This one is pretty obvious, but I still hear it from time to time. Just because I have a chemical imbalance in my brain that makes me feel ‘depressed’, doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what I have. On the contrary, I’m painfully aware that I am more privileged than most people in the world: I am educated, live in the global north and a democratic society; and often knowing that there are literally billions of people who are worse off makes me feel worse. I know there are people worse off than me, but it doesn’t mean that sometimes I don’t feel bad too.
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Most of these things are said out of a desire to make me feel better and help me, and I don’t write this with any real anger directed towards the people I know that do this. It’s just that the more we talk to people about how to talk about mental health issues, then the more that the stigma around them is reduced. And that can’t be a bad thing.