Once again, it’s May, the month designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. As someone with my own mental health issues (which, please trust me, I acquired legitimately), I never want to miss the opportunity to add my curmudgeonly voice to the conversation.
And so, while others are contributing to the cause of awareness in their own ways, I thought it more in keeping with the theme of this blog to do what I do best—complain. But make no mistake: The grouchiness I feel isn’t provoked by mental health issues, or by those who suffer from them, but by those non-sufferers who try to manage their own discomfort by offering remedies they cooked up in their uninformed heads. And if you or anyone you know has uttered any of these to someone with depression, anxiety, or other issues, it’s my duty to enlighten you: You’re not helping.
“I read that exercise helps. Have you tried working out?”
Yes, we’ve all heard that exercise helps. We’ve all been told to go for a walk, go to the gym, dance around the living room, or take some virtual Zumba. Obviously, we haven’t been able to get ourselves to do these things. So your suggestion is about as helpful as telling someone with insomnia to just try getting some sleep. You’re advising someone to fix their problem by doing something that their problem prevents them from doing.
“It could be worse.” / “You should appreciate what you have.”
At least we have a roof over our heads, right? At least we have a job, or a spouse, or all our fingers and toes. Well, you win. Our condition is totally negligible, and any complaints are unjustified. So now, on top of having whatever is plaguing us, we now also have guilt. Thanks for pointing out our ingratitude. That sure lifted the burden.
“I can relate. This is what happened to me . . . “
I ‘m just baffled by this badly misguided (yet frequently occurring) conversational turn. When my depression strikes, it strikes hard. I can barely manage it. The very last thing on a very long list of things I don’t need at the moment is to hear about what happened to you. This may come as a surprise, but if you’re speaking with someone who has their own overwhelming issues to deal with, shutting up and listening has far more value than your conversational narcissism.
“Maybe you’re meant to learn something from this.”
I’m so sorry if my depression challenges your sunny philosophy, but even if “the universe” is trying to bless me with wonderful lessons that I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, at the moment, I’m miserable, so please feel free to dispense your philosophical fast food someplace else.
“Cheer up.” / “Shake it off.” / “Snap out of it.” / “Don’t dwell on it.”
These suggestions are so obvious that to have not thought of at least one of them, I would have to be truly stupid. The inconvenient flaw in that thinking is that I am not stupid. It stands to reason, therefore, that there must be other circumstances preventing me from availing myself of these obvious and easy-as-pie solutions (such as cheering up) that are right under my nose. Oh yes, it comes to me now: It’s those pesky mental health issues. Thank you for playing. We have a copy of the home game for you and a year’s supply of Rice-a-Roni.
“You’ll be fine. It’ll all work out.”
Unless you are a time traveler or person with proven psychic abilities, I take little comfort in your bold predictions. Please stand down.
“You shouldn’t feel that way.”
Well, I do. So if I shouldn’t, that adds an additional concern. Once again, thanks. I feel wildly encouraged.
“Everyone has problems.”
I feel certain that’s true. These are the ones I have. And after contemplating your insightful observation . . . let's see . . . yes, I still have them.
“Cut out sugar.”
Yes, I’m certain that will do it.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” / “Don’t be so negative.”
Now that’s a help. More guilt will definitely cure my condition.
If you’d really like to offer support to your friends with mental health issues, I’d suggest taking some advice rather than giving it. Specifically, I recommend taking the advice of experts on the subject who suggest listening, letting your friends know you hear them and you’re sorry they're going through this, letting them know you’re available, and helping out with basic chores.
Or, even easier, just don’t offer the suggestions listed in bold. Because, honestly, they drive us nuts.