The Problem with Absolutes and Advice

As always please note that I am not a mental health professional, and so you should know this before reading my mental health blogs.

In my channel, I try to have a pretty open policy about discussions with mental health. As someone who suffers from various problems, and someone who has struggled a great deal in the past, I want to be a sounding board for those that might find themselves in need. The problem with this is once you open the door of allowing people to vent or even just discuss their issues, you open up the “advice” door. I feel it’s important to acknowledge your limitations when it comes to certain topics. In fact, I wrote about this very point in another blog post. We all have our unique experience, our unique perspective, and this can be extremely helpful to others. Compassionate people also don’t like turning others away; it simply doesn’t feel right. Yet, in spite of what we bring to the table and our desire to help others, we are all short of true experience, expertise, and the simple skills needed to help others.

I do not take the stance of “don’t give others advice”. I don’t feel like it would work, nor do I feel like it needs to be that black and white. I have lately started to take the stance of “try not to speak in absolutes.”

In my time on the internet, I have heard/read a lot of people advising as though it were an absolute. I myself have done this more than once. I feel like it’s a dangerous road to go down. I think it would help us all if we learned to frame the narrative in a way that makes sure to clearly highlight that we are speaking from our own experience.

Going to the gym regularly (when I used to) helped me a lot with my mental health. Choosing to get off the internet for a day, weekend, or even a week helps me from time to time. Taking time away from social activities can be a slippery slope, but is sometimes something I need. Certain medicines were bad for me, while therapy was helpful when I went on a different schedule than most people. All of these things, plus many others, are things that helped me a great deal. They are experiences I am willing to share and talk about (to an extent). They are also ideas; I am open to the fact that they might not help other people.

I don’t like statements like “the gym will help depression” or “the gym won’t help depression.” “Everyone needs medicine” or “No one needs medicine.” They can even be more subtle- “I feel like people depend far too much on medicine when they probably just need to be more active.” “I don’t get therapy; we know that mental health can’t be cured.” These absolutes can be extremely dangerous and are coming from people that likely have no business giving them.

I do know people that were able to handle their mental health with being active, doing things like yoga, and only seeing a therapist once every few weeks. I also know people that need medication and regular visits to a therapist. I know people that fall into neither of those cases. That’s the point. It’s unique, and it’s all about our perspective.

Talk about how much getting outside more helped you with your depression. Be open about your struggles with therapy. Talk about the benefits you got from medicine. But always frame it in such a way that it’s clear that you are talking about what worked for you, and that it might not work for anybody else. Be aware of what advice you are giving even if it’s not intentional, and be aware of whether or not you use absolutes. If you do use them, then I would advise you consider if you are really in the position that you should.

I never want to close myself off from discussion. If people want to talk about their struggles, and if my sharing my own might help, I want that door to remain open. At the same time, I am always very aware of the fact that I am still in a rather low point for my own battles. I may be better than where I was, say, 10 years ago, but I am still far from being in a healthy place. Even if I were in a much healthier place, my advice would still come with so many flaws that it would still not be the best. Instead of closing the door I try to simply make myself more aware of how I have these conversations, and ways I can improve them.

For now, one of my biggest rules is simply trying never to use absolutes. What I am doing to improve my health is for me, and some of it works, and some of it needs improvement. If sharing that can help other people great, but they should know it is likely not the exact blueprint for them either. There is no one solution. Always be looking for what works for you, and try not to lead people down a path that simply might not work for them.

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