Sunday, December 27, 2015

Talking About Treatment With a Mentally Ill Person

Check out this old school depiction of
hypnotherapy. People suggest hypnotism and acupuncture
all the time. *sigh*
Getting treatment, in my experience, is one of the most important things a person can do in response to mental illness. It can really be a life changer. While a healthy support network of family and friends is typically part of that treatment, there is a line between mental health treatment and mental health support. In other words, loved ones are not medical professionals and vice versa. Therefore, loved ones should try not to give medical advice or make statements about medical treatment that can hinder progress.

Let me first say that I am not for coddling the mentally ill. In my case, coddling would actually be counterproductive. That said, leaving the medical stuff to the professionals is not coddling. Anything a non-professional has to say on the topic is opinion or conjecture and can be detrimental to mental health treatment.

Here are some examples of things I have personally heard people say to others with mental illnesses:

1. "*Gasp* You're on buspirone? I hated that." - to an anxious woman with medication fears.
2. "I hated Celexa. It made me almost kill myself." - to a man with OCD who was trying a new medication.
3. "I just want to see you start taking some responsibility for your actions." - to a man who had tried to kill himself just a few days before.
4. "I don't believe in therapy." - to a woman seeking therapy for her OCD.
5. "You'll become an addict." - in response to an anxious man taking an Ativan for a panic attack.

One thing that all of the above statements have in common is that they project some greater knowledge of mental illness while displaying a clear lack of understanding. Firstly, medications work differently for many patients. Telling someone who is desperately trying to get rid of suicidal thoughts that the medication they are on made you suicidal is not helpful. Gasping like a soap opera actress when someone tells you what medication they are on is also not helpful, especially if that person already told you to stop talking about medication. Looking down on therapy or suggesting that someone take responsibility rather than get treatment is also pretty unhelpful.

The takeaway here is that the amount of, and which, medications a person is on is between her and her prescriber. Whether sucking it up, taking responsibility or any other such platitudinous approach will help is between her and her therapist. If you care about your mentally ill friend or loved one, just hang out, be there like you normally would. Encourage them to talk to professionals and try to remember you are not a psychiatrist, mental illnesses are real and therapists aren't unicorns.