People living with a mental illness or anyone openly speaking about their mental health are often at the receiving end of enormous unsolicited advice, most of which are demeaning besides being insensitive. Public Prescription by Sonaksha Iyengar intends to address these ill-advised comments that often come from a place of ignorance using a combination of typography and illustrations. Through her work, Sonaksha highlights that whether intended or unintended, these comments can have a detrimental impact on the psyche of a person.
Below are some of Sonaksha’s illustrations which re-imagine the concept of “prescription”. In the coming weeks, Mad in Asia Pacific will be running a Public Prescription series showcasing Sonaksha’s important and timely work. Stay tuned!
A lot of people just throw unsolicited and often inappropriate advice at people living with mental illnesses. But maybe it is harmless? Maybe they are ignorant? We have all considered this and often make space for it, but what about the person on the receiving end of this ‘advice’? Do not dismiss us or what we are going through, do not assume things. Listen, empathise and support. And please don’t ask us to smile or be positive.
It does not matter what mental illness you are living with, ‘stop worrying’ seems to be a public favourite prescription. It does not work that way though. While it can often come from a place of ignorance, some people honestly believe that it is that simple. Constantly throwing this kind of unsolicited advice at someone who is already living with a mental illness and may be experiencing debilitating pain is troublesome. While it is understandable that you might want to ‘fix it’ especially if you are seeing a loved one in pain, offering something as simple as do not worry as a solution simplifies and invalidates what they are going through.
It is okay to not have the answers, no one is expecting you to. Often, the best kind of help and support is to listen.
Can you imagine how frustrating it is to hear these things when you know they are not going to magically make all your struggles vanish? I have heard people say this to people living with chronic illnesses, to people with autoimmune disorders, and of course been given this advice many times too in relation to living with a mental illness. If we could have gotten over it, we probably would have. If we could just chill, we would, seriously. And a lot of us struggle with sleep, when it comes it may not be that idyllic thing you are referring to.
Here is something I always say: if you injured your foot and I asked you to get over it would your pain magically vanish or your injury disappear? No. Then why are mental illnesses an exception? A lot of these illnesses can manifest in physical ways but many of them are often ‘invisible’ to a third person. But just because it is invisible doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
There is a huge misconception that people cannot be living with mental illnesses if they have it all. Whether they’re doing really well professionally or going on many vacations, there is no single way that mental illnesses manifest. It not only varies based on the illness itself but also between people. So the next time you know someone has been struggling with their mental health but they ‘appear’ fine, sorted and happy, rethink. Oh and please don’t ask them to cheer up. If they could they would, but mental illness doesn’t work that way. It is not a choice. It is not a switch.
It is so frustrating to see people thinking (and believing) that mental illness is a trend. It’s not ‘trendy’ or ‘lit’ to be mentally ill and people need to stop trivializing it. The surge of people talking about mental health openly signifies that we’re collectively trying to create awareness and erase all the shame that has been associated with it for years. It is also a way for many of us to reach out to others who empathise, support and share their journeys. But no, it is not a trend. After my conversation with many people I have realised that there’s a common and dangerous misconception that mental illness is the current fad. ‘It’s going to go away and the next big thing will hop along. It’s going to pass.’ Nope. That is not how it works. Many of us have been living with it before the hashtags began and probably will even after the internet forgets what hashtags are.
I remember a person once walked up to me and said, “Oh it’s so cool you have a mental illness. It’s the trend right now anyway!” I was aghast and went on to explain how problematic that thinking was, but slowly this became familiar. As the conversations surrounding mental health grew, so did these comments. As I began speaking openly about my mental health people thought it was their right to give me advice, to force their beliefs down my brain. Whether it was to stop meds or drink a herbal tea, they seem to know how to magically ‘cure’ mental illness. For many of us it’s not a before and after situation. It may not be about finding a cure, and instead about finding ways to exist or live with it. Regardless, we don’t need your prescription. If we’re speaking about our journey, our experience, it is not an open invitation for advice.