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Sharing – How to Respond When Mental Health Advice Feels Like Judgment

Juliana’s article below offers some good advice for anyone dealing with mental health issues, or really even for anyone trying to heal from trauma, or grieving, etc. But, I want to talk more about this section, and address the people who feel like they want to say these sort of things to people in any of those situations:

“Unsolicited mental health advice can contribute to the judgment and stigma we face as people with mental illnesses, even when it comes from a place of good intentions. Opinions about what we should or shouldn’t do for our mental health can come off as judgmental, especially when those opinions minimize the time, effort, and research we have put into our choices.

People want to help by telling us which medications we should take, that we shouldn’t take medications at all, which foods we should eat, or which spiritual practices we should try. The unwanted advice-givers offer their opinions as facts, assert themselves as experts on your situation, and discount your own lived experiences in favor of their own. Even though they want to help, their methods don’t have the intended effect.”

Look, I get it, you tried something and it helped you, or you’ve seen it help someone else. Clearly, you are excited about the possibility of helping others, but you’re forgetting something. You’re forgetting that the person you are sharing this advice with, isn’t you.

When you come walking into a conversation with friends, or especially into online communities with statements like the ones above, the message you are actually sending is “Gee, fixing this is easy, you’re just doing it wrong”.

Imagine using those actual words towards someone you barely know. You wouldn’t, would you? At least if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t. But you are totally willing to take your beliefs, your own experience, and completely railroad another person’s current reality with it, you are doing something awfully similar. In a moment of emotional vulnerability, you have come in, guns blazing, with the suggestion that all of this pain they are in, and all of this struggling they are going through, should have been easy to avoid.

Can you see why, maybe, that’s very stigmatizing? Why your suggestion to exercise to fix it, to someone who exercised and it didn’t help, makes you mostly seem more interested in your own story, and not in actually supporting someone in pain?

Because, that’s kind of what it is. It sure isn’t supportive.

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