You may not even realize you're doing it.
By Erin Khar
A couple of months ago, a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that basically said that anyone voting for Hillary (she was a Bernie supporter) must be on anti-depressants. I read it, ignored it, and then… it started to bother me. I went back to the post and reread it. It reminded me of the many ways in which people do not support their friends who may be struggling with mental health issues.
So, I messaged her. I explained to her how the sentiment in her post undermines the struggle that many people have regarding psychiatric medication — medication they may need to function. That attitude, the “they must be crazy or medicated if they do fill-in-the-blank-thing,” perpetuates the stigma that prevents people from accessing help or staying on meds. While she was receptive and apologized, her defense was a spiel about “big pharma.”
And it became clear to me that she was missing the point.
Here are five ways you might not be supportive of your friend’s mental health struggle or status:
1. Offhand comments about medication.
Saying things like, “doctors over-prescribe psych meds,” “big pharma is trying to control you,” or my personal favorite, “you don’t really NEED that medication” is harmful. Maybe meds are overprescribed, maybe they’re not. YOU ARE NOT A DOCTOR. Stop pretending you have a degree in psychopharmacology and STFU.
If your friend had breast cancer, you wouldn’t say, “You know, breast cancer is super over-diagnosed, you don’t need treatment or a mastectomy.” Get it?
2. You just need to meditate/try yoga/exercise/get outside more.
Again, you are not a doctor. Sure, when you were depressed that one time after college, you started running and it changed your life. Awesome. I’m happy for you. And yes, exercise does help.
BUT, people with clinical depression (that they’ve probably been dealing with for years) cannot solve complicated brain chemistry issues with what helped you that one time. Even people who run still feel depressed. Because depression is real.
3. Calling celebrities crazy/bipolar/manic.
I get it. Donald Trump says and does things that defy explanation. It’s easy to jump on that train. Might he have a mental health issue? Yes. No. Maybe. Do I know for sure or am I a doctor? No. (Are you seeing a theme here?)
4. Discounting what real mental illness feels like.
Much like proclaiming that exercise/meditation/yoga is all you need, it’s ignorant to think you know what someone else’s mental illness looks like/feels like. I have struggled with depression my entire life. That doesn’t make me an authority on what someone else’s depression, or other mental health issue, feels like.
5. Thinking you know more than their doctor.
Say it with me — “You are not a doctor.” Don’t contradict the advice of someone’s doctor, especially when unsolicited.
I have witnessed people pass judgement on what medical protocol their friend’s doctor has for them and I think, UM, what year did you get your medical degree again? Your preconceived notions or interest in homeopathy or disgust for big pharma may contradict your friends’ doctor’s advice. But that’s not really your place.
We’ve covered what not to do. But what CAN you do to be supportive to a friend or loved one who is struggling with mental health issues?
That’s the number one thing you can do. Listen when they need an ear and when they need to vent. If they’re struggling and don’t have the wherewithal to get help, you can intervene by contacting a family member or getting them to a professional who can help. And think before you speak. Don’t perpetuate the stigma that prevents people from getting help. Be accepting and be open-minded.
This article was originally published at theBERRY. Reprinted with permission from the author.