With the recency of ‘Bell Let’s Talk’ day, one of the things that I have noticed and pondered on is the prevalence of non-professionals giving advice on how to deal with mental illness. As someone who has dealt with mental health issues from a young age, I can recognize the importance of incorporating things such as physical exercise, mindfulness, etc. into your daily routine in order to help mitigate some of the negative impacts that mental illness can have. However, there is often the suggestion that doing things such as this can help to ‘cure’ someone of mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, as they are often minimized within our society. Myself and others in my friendship circle have discussed how sometimes when we go to certain people to talk about the things we are dealing with, the first response is often “well why don’t you work out more often?” or “maybe you should try just getting out of bed and going for a walk! That would make you feel better!” among other types of advice. Although this advice comes from a good place, things like this can often work to minimize the way that people with mental illness feel, by suggesting that there is a ‘quick fix’ to dealing with these issues. Furthermore, this advice is often coming from people who are not professionals and therefore do not fully understand the best ways to deal with individualized issues.
Although I do recognize that mental health counseling is not accessible to everyone (especially at Queen’s – I could write pages on this topic in itself) it is important to recognize that professionals are the ones who are trained to give advice specific to each client’s issue. From my personal experience, when I go to someone about something I am dealing with, I generally just want someone to listen to me and validate the way that I am feeling. When I have received unsolicited advice in the past, it has made me feel as though I am doing something wrong because I feel like I physically can’t even get out of bed some days to go for a walk. Even if there is evidence to suggest that doing things like working out more often may make you feel better, sometimes you have to work on dealing with the root of the problem, before you can even think about adding coping mechanisms. Personally, when my friends validate me through saying things such as “it’s okay that you feel this way right now, how can we best support you?” or “we’re always here to listen to you” or “your feelings are completely valid, we understand that this must be a lot for you right now” are so much more helpful than trying to give advice on issues that even they may not fully understand. Mental health professionals exist for a reason and I fully believe that they should be accessible to everyone in order to get the best advice possible. If someone you know is going through something, just try to be an open ear without suggesting solutions unless they ask for them, sometimes this can be the only thing that they need.