Treatment Resistant Mental Illness and Patronising Cheap Advice

Two or three weeks ago I had a major breakdown. Most people close to me have been supportive, which makes me feel very lucky.

One thing that has made me feel worse in my recovery is people giving patronising cheap advice to me about my mental health. My particular mental health has existed my whole life. I have studied intensely for 20 years in many many fields to try and help myself. I have studied these fields in depth:

  • Personal growth
  • Psychology
  • Counselling
  • Mindfulness / Meditation

I have also tried almost every alternative treatment, and tried pharmaceutical treatments too. These things have helped quite a bit, but I am far from cured.

My depression could be considered treatment resistant. Some people have had a mental health illness that didn’t need much effort to fix. Or maybe they tried for three years and mastered it. In THAT case your mental health isn’t that bad! I know that might be hard to read but mine and others like me have had our conditions for decades.

If you come out the other side of depression after a few years or months effort, or maybe medication completely cured you, then it is possible that you will now start thinking you are an expert. You might think that because YOUR mental health was cured, that you can now cure everyone elses. Please stop! This is a complete delusion! The parallel would be you managing to solve a simple mathematical equation, and believing that you can now solve ALL mathematical problems.

The human brain is said to be the most complex object in the known universe. Most people can’t even fix their mobile phone or computer, so why do they think they can fix a human brain!?

I am sick of people saying things to me like, ‘chin up old boy, you can do it’, or ‘Have you tried exercise? It sorted me out’.

Classic ‘advice’:

Have you tried ______? It worked for me!

  • Yoga
  • Exercise
  • Medication
  • Counselling
  • CBT
  • Mindfulness
  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Raw food
  • Gluten free / lactose free diet

The list goes on and on and on. If someone has spent 20 years studying the subject and putting what has been learned in to ACTION then please stop your cheap advice. I have been told by counsellors that my self-awareness is so good that I don’t need counselling (as that is most people’s problem in counselling. There awareness is poor). I have been told by a psychiatrist that I already know CBT and mindfulness so well, that I know it more than the short courses they went on, so it’s pointless teaching me it again (this wasn’t me fishing for compliments, or them trying to placate me, this was their honest and reasonable response).

There is also an American attitude that positivity can solve everything. This is also another cruel delusion. I am all for positivity, but please don’t start thinking it can solve ALL the world’s problems.

We all mean well though. We all want to help others. So we suggest things.

A mental health issue like depression or anxiety can have SO many causes. Some are simple to fix, and some aren’t. Some people might be depressed because they are in a stressful marriage. When they leave the marriage, their depression goes away. (They had easy to fix depression). Depression based on easy to change external circumstances, can’t really be considered depression in the truest sense. Serious depression is a disease where you feel awful even when life is going right.

Some people’s depression is down to a highly complex issue relating to their neurology (not just a chemical imbalance but a structural issue, or some other highly complex issue). In these circumstances ‘just exercising’ isn’t going to cut it. So be careful giving advice to people with treatment resistant or highly complex mental health issues.

I’m sure I have been guilty of this too. It is very hard to accept that someone can’t be helped. We need to start admitting that some people’s mental health issues are highly complex and easy fixes won’t exist. Some people will have their mental health issues for life. They will be able to manage it and not cure it. People in this boat will often feel worse based on people giving simple advice.

Giving simple advice on someone’s highly complex mental illness is like giving some advice who has brain cancer. You wouldn’t say ‘just exercise’, or ‘try yoga’. So please be more aware of those with highly complex mental health issues.

Copyright MEN HEAL 2015

13 thoughts on “Treatment Resistant Mental Illness and Patronising Cheap Advice

  • March 18, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    Nicely put. A very valid point that needed to be made. I’d like to add, if I may, that some people who have gotten over “depression” may have had a Depressive episode, which they mistakenly conflate with Depression. That’s a distinction that needs to be made,IMHO.

  • March 18, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    That’s a good post. We encounter this, conceptually, every day here. There seems to be something in the American DNA that is very “white knight”, problem-solving focused. If that means dropping bombs on a nation to fix their problems…well, so be it, damn it!

    It’s so unusual to have a conversation about a personal problem in which the other person doesn’t feel obliged to cycle through some potential solutions. It seems to be our cultural way. And, the art of listening–as they say–isn’t very popular. The thing most of us have a very difficult time saying is that there’s simply no solution. And, sometimes, this is certainly the case.

    • March 18, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      So true about listening. Sometimes we just need to be listened to and believed.

    • March 18, 2015 at 1:54 pm

      You’ve made my day! I wasn’t feeling well enough to proof read it but I felt a huge urge to write it. I feel like a hypocrit at times though. For example on Twitter I post things that might help some people with mental health issues, however these tweets aren’t intended for people with highly complex / treatment resistant cases. I need to add a disclaimer to that effect if there was space. Thanks for your kind words. Mike

      • March 18, 2015 at 1:56 pm

        It’s a damn fine rant about something that really, really, really needed to be said.

  • March 23, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    Very good points Mike. Everybody has so many variables going on, so everyone is different. The treatments you list above are reasonable suggestions and worth a try, but each individual needs to work out what is effective for them. Great post. Recover well,

    • March 23, 2015 at 1:46 pm

      Definitely. Some treatments will work for some people. It’s just hard if you’ve tried everything and someone thinks they can cure you by suggesting you eat raw food or by doing a yogic headstand (and yes I’ve had friends advise these very things in the past). The raw food friend no longer follows that diet. Thanks for you input 🙂

  • June 14, 2015 at 4:31 pm

    Ahhhh THANK YOU. I thought I was the only person on the planet that felt this! Everything you wrote just hit the mark 100%.


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