I wonder if this phrase is familiar to anyone else? It’s usually followed by things like:
“…do some exercise.”
“…eat more fruit and vegetables.”
“…get outside more.”
“…think more positively.”
“…try to be grateful for what you’ve got, rather than what you haven’t.”
“…learn not to dwell on things so much.”
I find these kinds of comments incredibly frustrating, because they are, in a way, difficult to refute. It’s no secret that a healthy diet and positive attitude have an impact on your mental health, and I’m not about to argue against exercise being a powerful tool in the battle with anxiety and/or depression! But then again…
What a lot of people don’t realise is that when I hear these things I hear “If you don’t help yourself in this, this and this way, then you’ve not earned the right to sympathy, help, or even acknowledgement that you have an actual illness with actual symptoms that won’t magically go away if you learn to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.”
These (usually well-intentioned) bits of advice can sound pretty accusatory. Almost like the advice-giver is excusing themselves from providing any sympathy or assistance until you, the sufferer, can prove that you are actively trying to combat your symptoms yourself.
But someone with depression might sometimes find themselves utterly unable to get out of their bed, even going hungry for hours because the prospect of going to the kitchen to fetch food is just too much. Someone in the throes of an anxiety attack cannot stop “dwelling” on the source of their anxiety because their nervous system is telling them that they are in danger RIGHT NOW. Sometimes the depressed person watches dirty laundry pile up before their eyes, and wants with every fibre of their being to do something about it, but they just… can’t. Sometimes a beautiful gift sends an anxious person into a tearful spiral of shame and guilt because they know, when they look into the very core of themselves, that they do not deserve it.
(Yes, those last two examples are all me, and believe me they are not isolated incidents.)
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t give advice to someone suffering from mental health issues. But, please don’t make their following that advice a requirement for the continuation of your support. If they are anything like me, they already think they are stretching your patience to its last thread, and if they find themselves unable to do whatever it is you suggest, well… it won’t have the desired effect!