Some Unsolicited Advice For People Who Give Unsolicited Advice About Mental Health

If you have a mental illness or are in recovery, you’re likely not a stranger to unsolicited advice. I know it’s something I hear a lot, so I get how overwhelming and frustrating it is, which is why before I go any further, I want to ask you a question. Why is unsolicited advice unhelpful to someone with a mental illness or a person with substance abuse challenges?

  • Unsolicited advice is more for the person advising the person needing support for their mental health, according to Verywell Mind
  • Unsolicited advice oversimplifies complex conditions like trauma, addiction, and a mental health diagnosis.
  • Unsolicited advice is patronizing, invalidating, and can be traumatic, making a person feel worse and ashamed of themselves. 

As you can tell from the above points, unsolicited advice is more harmful than helpful. A big reason is unless a person has lived experiences with things like a mental health diagnosis or an education in psychology, understands trauma-informed care, or has experienced adverse childhood experiences. It isn’t easy to understand how complex these challenges and similar ones are. It takes years to understand mental illness, substance abuse, or anything related to psychology or mental health, for that matter. 

I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t support a person; I’m trying to say you first need to learn how to support someone, and even though supporting a person can be tricky, it is possible. A great way to start is by keeping the following questions and tips in mind when supporting someone.

Why does a person’s language and beliefs around mental health and substance abuse matter when giving advice?

The average person doesn’t realize the complexities of living with a mental health condition or substance abuse issues. Otherwise, I hope they wouldn’t be telling people things like “Why can’t you just quit?” or “Go for a walk” and other helpful statements. Like my favourite one: “Isn’t everyone a little ADHD?” Those forms of advice and microaggressions are toxic and cause a person to feel things like shame and disempower a person. 

When you speak like this, you’re telling a person who is likely already nervous and hesitant about doing things like taking medications or seeing a therapist and other forms of support that those options aren’t helpful. You’re also invalidating their experiences when you downplay or mock a person. I get how everyone has an opinion, but it’s time people realize opinions aren’t facts. Those stigmatized opinions negatively impact the person on the receiving end more than you realize. 

Instead of focusing on unhelpful opinions and beliefs, my best advice is to try focusing on educating yourself with the help of peer-reviewed sources and asking questions to people like doctors, pharmacists and therapists, and other professionals. Otherwise, your inaccurate beliefs and opinions can stop or scare a person from receiving much-needed medical care, dramatically decreasing their quality of life. 

How can you make a person feel validated and that you care about their issues, challenges, and diagnosis?

You can start by advocating for a person who wants to see a psychiatrist or takes medications instead of making them feel bad for seeking professional help. While telling them things like there’s no shame in taking medication or seeking professional help and respecting their boundaries around getting treatment, seeing a therapist, or going to a 12-step program. 

You can also own your incorrect words, attitudes, and behaviours. Yup, that’s right—owning those things and learning healthier, more medically accurate beliefs. I know admitting you’re wrong isn’t fun, but it shows you care and respect that person enough to properly educate yourself and take a better approach to support them. 

When you do things like this, you’re telling someone they matter, and as a person with mental health challenges, I can tell you this simple step can mean the world to someone. Another thing you can do is advocate for them to get treatment and positively talk about seeking professional help instead of saying things like it’s a weakness or makes you a burden. 

That’s why it’s important to realize what we say and even what we post, share, and like on social media can send a message to someone that you think they matter. But unfortunately, it can also indirectly send a message that you don’t think mental health challenges are valid, making a person feel even worse causing them to suffer in silence instead of getting the help they deserve.

It’s time people started focusing on building others up instead of tearing them down before they don’t understand what certain people have been through in their life. Lastly, below are a few ways advocating for seeking help for mental health professionals is beneficial to someone from Healthline and my personal experiences. 

  • Just because you’re a parent or friend doesn’t mean you know more than a mental health professional trained in CBT, ACT, medications and medication adherence, and other helpful interventions. Professionals also have in-depth education in diagnosing mental illness, trauma, and other healthcare resources.
  • Don’t shove their past challenges or mistakes in their face because doing so does nothing but shame a person and make them feel worse. Also, if a person is getting annoyed at you for disrespecting their boundaries around seeking help for their mental health, that doesn’t mean you’re a snowflake or overly sensitive. It means that you’re putting your message. It means that you’re interfering in something that you have no right to interfere with, plain and simple. 
  • Seeing a mental health professional is great for empowering us to gain a healthy understanding of our emotions and reframing our inner dialogue.
  • Just because a celebrity, health guru, or influencer posts something about mental health doesn’t mean that that advice should be taken over the advice of a qualified mental health professional.
  • It’s better to be non-judgmental and compassionate and give us a safe place to share our thoughts, feelings, and struggles instead of judging us for those things.

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