This post was inspired by the fantastic 10 Things Not To Say To A Depressed Person by Bipolar Blogger. Note that I am by no means saying that all mental health professionals are clueless – far from it! – many are compassionate and very good at what they do. Sadly, as cuts continue to ravage the already desperately underfunded mental health services in this country and many others, I fear statements like those below will become more common as the “good ones” become rarer.
1. “Have you tried Googling it?”
I’ve heard this one a few times, sadly, but the most recent came after a catastrophic breakdown, during which I simply could not shut off the racket my voices were making. Even simple tasks had become impossible due to the constant noise and I was desperate for help. I turned to the local mental health crisis team, explained my situation and was met with a blank (or perhaps slightly frightened) expression. And then this bombshell.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried googling “hearing voices” or anything related to mental illness, but my advice would be, simply: don’t.
2. “I’ve done a bit of Googling and…”
Note that I have nothing against Google! It’s probably the best search engine out there. The problem here is context. This is related to my previous point, as it has been the same psychiatric nurses I’ve heard say this.
When you tell me, a mental health patient, that you’ve been googling my symptoms and disorder, I immediately lose confidence in you. Of course you are human and your knowledge of mental illness is not going to be infallible, but think about what you’re implying: You were so confused by my symptoms, or so caught out with them, that you had to resort to an internet search engine, not your training, not your medical textbooks, not even advice from another mental health worker. I am so strange, or what I am experiencing is so strange that you have had to look outside your profession.
Add to that the fact that by admitting this, you’re basically admitting that you are not qualified to advise me on this and you can understand why I might suddenly clam up.
In fact, the first time I heard this magic phrase, the words that came next were, “…and I’ve discovered this group called [Group Name].” (I’m not going to name the group here as myself and others have discovered in the past that they will often show up in blogs and so on to “defend” themselves in what usually becomes an increasingly abusive and threatening manner.) Let’s call them Group X. Group X, it turns out, are an organization who are very strongly anti-psychiatry. They will regularly contact known mental health patients and try to talk them out of taking medication and seeking professional help. Many of them believe that hearing voices is a spiritual and supernatural phenomenon. Some believe that voice hearers are hearing the voice of god.
Now imagine a mental health professional referring you to such a group. Imagine the damage that could do to someone at one of the most – if not the most – vulnerable times of their life.
3. “Just go to a disco.”
If you can barely believe that a mental health professional would say this to their patient, imagine how gobsmacked I was when a Psychologist said this to me. Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. If you’ve ever experienced a mental illness (particularly if you’re female or your illness came on at a young age), you probably have your own “just do [simple thing]” story. I had one GP tell me to “just stop listening to depressing music” another told me to “just wear less black.” Some of these incidents were fairly recent and, in my view, proof that all medical professionals need training in mental illness.
4. “Have you been with any boys yet?”
Another one from a Psychologist. I was thirteen when he asked me this. Inappropriateness aside, I was actually questioning my sexuality at the time, which might have been vaguely relevant. Sadly I will never know, because I simply clammed up.
There is a tendency by many professionals (particularly GPs, I’ve found) to correlate sexual activity or lack thereof with mental illness, particularly when the patient is female. I’ve had hormones blamed, pregnancy (I’ve never been pregnant), a lack of sex, too much sex, the wrong type of sex, broodiness and anything and everything else related to sex and breeding you can imagine blamed for my mental state.
5. “Just stop self-harming.”
A special type of “Just [do the thing]” advice which I feel deserves its own category.
In the context of mental health professionals, this one was a favourite of GPs and, occasionally, counsellors. It’s as useful as telling an asthmatic to “just stop wheezing” or someone with a broken leg to “just stop bleeding.” The self-harm is a symptom of a larger problem. It is a coping technique and, in fact, was the one thing keeping me from doing far worse. Stopping before I was ready did more harm than good and, ultimately, led to greater feelings of guilt when I inevitably relapsed.
What about you? What useless (and conversely, useful) things have you heard from mental health professionals? I will be making a post about the most useful things I’ve been told in the future, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I just had to share some of the ridiculous things I have heard in my time as a mental health patient. Maybe some of you will relate. Let me know in the comments.