Unsolicited health advice is intrusive & invalidating – Please stop

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Everyone living with a chronic illness has had to deal with unsolicited advice about their health. Whether it’s from strangers on social media or from well-meaning friends and family, uninvited advice is a frustrating part of living with an incurable chronic illness. It’s so common that we often face these comments daily.

I’m sure you are all aware of the common cure suggestions including: exercise more, take up yoga, you just need to have a positive mental attitude. Go vegan, keto, dairy free, gluten free, sugar free, eat more fruit and vegetables. Get some fresh air – go for a walk. ‘xyz’ supplements cured me, have you tried? … coconut oil, aloe vera, magnesium, turmeric, 5-HTP, LDN, CoQ10, omega 3. Drink raw juice, drink more water. Meditate, pray, God will heal you. And don’t get me started on the myriad of MLM companies selling ‘cures’ like JuicePlus. 

But how do you respond? On the one hand I know most people mean well and only want to help, but on the other hand these comments can be very tedious, exhausting, intrusive and invalidating. 

Credit: Boolbaga.com

My own experiences with unsolicited advice

Over the years, I’ve received a lot of unwelcome advice about my health. Since setting up my blog and writing openly about my health struggles, I have been inundated by messages offering ‘miracle cures’ for all my illnesses.

Although I appreciate people are trying to help, a certain amount of judgement comes with these suggestions. When someone offers unwanted advice, you don’t just hear a helpful tip to try, you hear that you aren’t trying hard enough. 

The truth is, when you have lived with a chronic illness for several years, you have pretty much tried everything. People don’t understand that we’re not just lying around passively accepting our fate. We’re online doing research on treatments – we are experts on our illness.

To explain my frustrations, and highlight how intrusive unsolicited health advice can be, I would like to tell you about a recent confrontation on Twitter:

I was on Twitter, minding my own business, when someone started retweeting a blog post I had shared, with comments directed at me. I didn’t know this person, and they knew nothing about my medical history. Yet they took it upon themselves to dish out lots of unsolicited medical advice. The way this advice was phrased was very condescending. I remained polite at first, but after 5 separate cure suggestions for depression, fibromyalgia pain, acid reflux from the same person, in the space of 20 minutes, I felt compelled to confront them. This is not ok. Here’s a summary of the conversation:

This person first responded with a cure for my depression. “You need walks in the fresh air, fresh fruit, plenty of water, no sugar, no dairy”. He knew nothing about my physical health (I’m bedbound) or my restricted diet.

My response: “Thanks for the suggestions, but it’s not that easy for some of us. I’m bedbound with severe ME and intolerant to all fruit apart from bananas. I’m already on a no sugar or dairy diet though.”

I tried to keep it polite and explained my personal situation, hoping that this would put an end to his uninvited advice. But no, he kept going. He added a few other health and lifestyle suggestions, and after stating that I should go outside in a wheelchair, obviously choosing to ignore the part where I said I was bedbound, he moved onto curing my fibromyalgia pain. 

“Do you also have Fibromyalgia? I do, and I take TURMERIC, 1 teaspoon mixed in honey. It’s excellent for the pain, also apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp in a small glass of warm water. . These are excellent for the pain, it does work.” 

Now, as usual, certain assumptions have been made here. He’s assumed I haven’t tried these remedies before, and assumed that what works for him will work for everyone else. The truth is, I have tried them. My response: “I appreciate your suggestions Jack, but I can’t take turmeric. I have tried and it severely aggravated my IBS and acid reflux. I’m glad it’s helping you though” 

Again I kept it polite. Maybe I should have just ignored him at this stage. But I hoped this would shut him up. But no, he had a cure for acid reflux too. 

“Take bicarbonate of soda first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach. Half a teaspoon in warm water, add a squirt of lemon juice. This will get rid of the reflux. It does work. I got rid of reflux completely.” 

Yet again, assumptions, yet again unsolicited advice. 

My final response was less polite. After 5 unwanted cure suggestions I had had enough. 

I can’t remember exactly what I said, and I wasn’t quick enough to get a screenshot before he blocked me, but it was along these lines:

“I know you mean well Jack, but you have now tweeted 5 cure suggestions that I didn’t ask for. At no point have I requested any medical advice. By forcing your cure suggestions onto me it feels like you are insinuating that I haven’t been trying hard enough to improve my own health. You are assuming I haven’t tried these remedies before, and that I want your advice. Please stop now.”

So after half an hour of fielding his unwanted advice, and finally telling him that this wasn’t OK – he blocked me. I guess some people can’t handle criticism. But I’m glad I stood up for myself. Maybe he will think twice about this kind of behaviour in the future. 

And what prompted all this unsolicited advice? Did I request remedies for depression, pain and acid reflux? Nope! All I did was share one of my blog posts about tips for coping with bad mental health days. At no time did I encourage this encounter. Each suggestion I politely shot down, explaining my situation “yes, I have tried that, but it didn’t work – I’m glad it helps you” etc. But each time he retweeted my response with another cure suggestion.

How to respond to unsolicited health advice

Did I handle the situation well? What is the correct way to respond to unsolicited advice? Was there a better way? Who knows? But I have thought a lot about it since.

Most of the time, it’s probably best just to ignore these comments. But sometimes people do not take a hint. So if you feel unable to ignore the unwanted advice, why not try one of the following responses;

  • Thank you, I’ll take that into consideration
  • That’s a good idea, but I have my own way of handling this
  • I am glad that works for you. There are so many different ways of doing things
  • Thanks, but I’m fine
  • Thanks, but I don’t really need advice.  I’m already researching a solution
  • I’ll ask for advice if I need it

Do you have any you would like to add?

Why unsolicited medical advice is tedious and can be invalidating

I’m sure there are people reading this who think I’m overreacting – I should just be thankful that someone is taking an interest in my health, and taking the time to make these suggestions. 

But unsolicited advice can create a lot of stress. Often it can feel like criticism rather than support when someone offers their take on what you could be doing better.

I have been chronically ill for over 15 years. I receive uninvited health and lifestyle advice on a regular basis, sometimes daily. It is frustrating to constantly hear the message that, not only am I not trying hard enough to improve my own health, but that myself and my doctors are not the most knowledgeable about my medical and lifestyle needs.

Credit: Mellow Doodles

Also, suggesting that I can be cured simply by having a positive mental attitude, taking a common supplement or taking up yoga, belittles the complexity and severity of my illness, and invalidates my struggles.

Can you see how this would get tedious and be intrusive? Can you see why I may react in a less than positive manner to this unwanted advice?

And it’s not just well-meaning individuals we have to contend with. We are often targeted by companies selling products or services, and scammers who prey on our desperation to get relief from our symptoms.

The next time you get the urge to give health advice to someone, please stop and think;

  • What are my motives? 
  • Am I qualified to give advice? 
  • How might my comments be interpreted? 
  • Could I phrase this in a less confrontational, or judgemental way? 
  • But most importantly; Did they ask for advice? 

Please do not give advice when it is not specifically requested. The key here is the word ‘unsolicited’. If someone wants information about your lifestyle, your choice, or your product, they will ask you and they will do the research. 

And if you do give advice and somebody says that they aren’t interested or asks you to stop, just respect their wishes – don’t get stroppy or defensive. Please know we are constantly being bombarded by unsolicited advice, and it’s exhausting! 

Don’t be like Jack.

How you can help your chronically ill friend

Rather than giving uninvited advice, why not ask your chronically ill friend how you can help. If you want to support them, educate yourself about their illness. Let them know you will always be there for them without judgement. If you see something in the news about their condition, send them the link – we appreciate that you are thinking about us. And if you read about a possible cure or treatment for their illness on social media, please think twice about forcing this upon them. If you do feel like you need to let them know, consider how you approach this and the wording you use. And if we choose not to go down this treatment path, please respect our wishes.

Trust that we are the most knowledgeable about our own health and needs. And out of respect for disabled and chronically ill people everywhere, please stop forcing your unsolicited advice upon those who don’t want it.

What unsolicited advice have you received about your health? How do you respond?

For more personal stories, reviews, news, inspirational quotes and in-depth discussion, please head over to my Facebook page.

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  3. Jo Moss
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  1. So much yes!

    Another response I give is, “I’m fortunate to have a really great doctor. She’s comes to my home every 6-8 weeks and we make decisions together about what treatments to pursue based on emerging science.”

    I also do a lot of the, “I’m glad that works for you.”

    And, “I’m glad that diet works for you. I have an incredibly long list of foods I can’t eat due to my collection of conditions and intolerances. My doctor is also a registered dietician, so I trust her to advise me.”

  2. Jo, such a good post. It happens all the time, doesn’t it? I know some people are genuinely trying to be helpful, but it does become tedious.
    I have a half-written draft of a post on a similar theme. When I get around to it, I will try to remember to put a link to this post, if that’s okay with you.

  3. Great post, Jo! That conversation with Jack sounded quite frustrating. I think you handled it well.

    I tend to thank them for caring and then highlight the fact that we are all different and respond differently to things, but I’m glad that it’s helping them. Will feature on my news round-up this week. x

  4. Jo.
    Your post brings up a lot for me. What you write is so important. I wish there was a good way to stop people from their invasive comments, ill-founded and unsolicited advice, and condescending judgment when people don’t follow their advice as if it is the miracle cure we’ve all looked for.

    Let me preface. My husband has suffered from CFS/ME complicated by a damaged nerve during a surgery.
    Between the two, he’s a mess. (sorry, hon, if you are reading this)

    People don’t tell him directly the advice they throw at me like it’s God’s Gift. I’ve heard all the diet, supplement, exercise, mind over matter, and marital advise I can stand.
    Yes, marital advice. ME is not about addiction, and tough love is inappropriate. I didn’t marry with an intention to abandon ship if he got sick. I didn’t plan on him getting this sick, but still…

    The best answer I found for the marital advice is to push it back on the person telling me to ditch the marriage if he doesn’t ‘get his act together’. And it was just last month, after 12 grueling years, that the words miraculously rolled off my tongue. The answer to all invasive questions became clear.
    Put it back on them. Clearly. Calmly. With no malice, just turn it around and ask them what they would do.

    Here’s the thing. All these people are trying to solve a problem for which they are completely unqualified to provide advice.

    For the ones who have the audacity to question a marriage or advise on relationships:
    Hmm.. Are you married? or Have you ever been married? I’m curious if you think you would leave your spouse if they got so severely ill they could no function and yet even the best doctors in the world did not have a cure or even a treatment. What do you think you would do?
    or if they insist you are enabling and codependent:
    Wow, sounds like you’ve spent time dealing with alcoholics and addicts. I’m sad for you, but honestly? This is a real illness and has zero to do with addictive behavior or choice.

    Or the medical, dietary, snake oil, or convoluted mental/physio advice that comes from uncredentialed lay people?
    Wow, are you a doctor? Do you have the credentials to diagnose and treat a patient? Because if not, you need to understand one thing: You don’t have the creds to give me medical advice and if doctors do not understand this illness, then your lay advice that came from a trendy diet publication, MLM sales pitch, or Oprah tv segment is going to do more harm than good.

    Wow, I’ve told you so many times what is going on. I can’t believe you don’t listen to me. If you really want to learn and understand this illness, please just go to the National Institute of Health or CDC websites and do a little real research before you pass judgment.

    As you can tell, I am fed up with so-called friends and family telling me what my husband needs to do. They don’t help, they just judge.

  5. Hi Jo. Thank you so much for this article. It hits on so many points I try to explain to people.
    I get unsolicited advice from extended family (& coupons for otc products to buy), strangers, & even new physicians that aren’t involved in my chronic medical conditions (such as a specialist testing me for a completely unrelated thing, but since he helped his wife, he can help me).
    I was even force faith healed by a stranger in a grocery store after a surgery. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, even when I told him the surgical bandage shouldn’t be touched. I finally relented so my spouse & I could leave. But I told him not to touch me, just to pray for me. He apparently didn’t think that was good enough, & I had hands laid upon my surgical bandage. Obviously it didn’t heal me. I had another surgery a year & a half later & am still going to physical therapy 11 years later.
    Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the faith that bothered me. It was the force. A friend is a minister. He held a prayer circle of a few people who knew me & including me. He asked first. And I didn’t feel like he was trying to do something “AT” me. I felt more cared about.
    But I too get the suggestions people hear about or see on tv. Sometimes I get the ones that helped them when they felt poorly… not when they had any of my medical conditions, just when they didn’t feel well.
    I’ve pretty much narrowed my response that I give everyone (even doctors) down to one:
    “Thank you for thinking of me. I will try to remember to talk to my doctor about that.”
    If they press, I include: “I always need to be careful not to negatively affect any of the medications or treatments I’m on, so I always double check with my doctor.”
    I’m at one doctor or another so frequently that most people don’t pester me after that. Once they know I’m hearing them & seeing a medical professional, it’s hard to argue at me. I do say at me because I won’t argue with anyone about this stuff. I simply don’t have the energy or mental health strength to deal with that.

  6. Very well said & I think you dealt with this annoying (eventually harassing) person brilliantly, well done. Some of us don’t know when to stop at various things and maybe that person suffers from something which makes it difficult for him to know how far to go etc. Yes, people think they’re trying to help but… As you know only too well: most of us don’t learn about chronic illness/injury & disability until it happens to us and then (as you say) we must become experts in our own field/condition in what works for us. I’ve got a brain injury & chronic pain so I understand just a little bit of what you’re dealing with and have had various unhelpful advice from many people – including from doctors, but also occasionally I get advice (not diets or magic ‘cures’ though) that does help, for which I’m grateful. Thank you for writing this and helping to educate all of us. All the best to you.

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