“This’ll make you feel better!” Testing advice from people who don’t have depression

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Martha Mills, a writer for The Guardian, candidly wrote a piece called “’Just go for a run’: testing everyday advice for depression,” where she reviews tips that people unfamiliar with depression have offered her to “keep the blues away.” Check out her assessment of different kinds of advice, plus hear what the PatientsLikeMe community has said about mental health–related tips from the peanut gallery.

Common pointers put to the test

Why did Martha take on this experiment? In her own words: “Being especially practiced at denial, I decided that I, a mere mortal with a solid history of depressive episodes since childhood, could fake my way out of this oncoming tsunami of debilitating black fog using the advice that people who have never experienced depression trot out – an experiment that could surely only succeed [sidelong glance to camera]. I would improve my diet and exercise, force myself to take up hobbies, I would ‘soldier on until it passed’ and thrust myself (reluctantly) into social situations.”

To sum up her “review”:

  • Working out didn’t work for her and just made her mind “churn” (although she acknowledged that exercise can be a beneficial part of a treatment plan for many people with mental health conditions).
  • Taking up “fun” and sociable new hobbies like tap dancing and pottery — and forcing herself to go on days when she could barely utter a sentence — felt silly and awful.
  • “Soldiering on until it passes” — by going to work and keeping a social calendar despite her despair — didn’t work either… because her depression doesn’t “pass” without proper treatment.

This exercise in denial (while not recommended) resulted in some important takeaways for Martha, such as how people without serious depression don’t fully understand it, plus how important prescription medications are for her particular treatment plan. While some pointers can be beneficial (combined with treatments that work for you), statements like”just do this” feel out-of touch and may be ineffective.

The community’s experiences

Some of the PatientsLikeMe mental health community have shared about their experiences receiving tips on how they “just” need to do “X” (fill in the blank).

Here’s a look at their comments on the topic:

  • Opening up on social media about your depression and how you’re doing lately can bring on lots of comments, like “get off the meds — try natural supplements” and “get out of bed and exercise,” one member says.
  • “I get angry and even more depressed when people don’t understand and say stupid things to me like ‘just get over it.’ It is so hurtful.”
  • “My mother in law gave me a book that said that people could cure themselves naturally,” says another member. “I threw the book away once I read that someone diagnosed with bipolar no longer had symptoms because they were being treated for hypothyroidism.”
  • “I got very angry when I went to a class about juicing and one of the presenters said people with mental illness would be cured if they just juiced enough.”

What kinds of advice have you received from people who don’t totally “get” serious mental health conditions? Has any of it been helpful? How do you respond to unhelpful/unwanted tips? Join PatientsLikeMe today share your experiences.

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