Madsplaining … as it was mansplained to me. On offering advice to people with mental health problems

18 Aug
The Yolkr - teach your granny a new way to suck egg yolks from egg whites

The Yolkr – teach your granny a new way to suck eggs (or at least to suck yolks from whites)

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Madsplaining: Offering unsolicited advice to someone on how they should manage their mental health (especially by peers and mental health professionals)

On twitter (and no doubt on other social media platforms), we mental health folks share a lot of detail about our lives. We talk about our good and bad experiences of mental health treatment, medications, symptoms, cheese sandwiches, our lives in general. Sometimes, when someone’s sharing a problem they’re experiencing with managing their mental health, other tweeps – those with lived experience or mental health professionals (or both) – will chip in with helpful tips.  We can be a sharing, caring bunch.

“Oh, I tried X and it works wonders for me. Why not give it a go?” “I saw a documentary about this new thing the other day that I thought would help you with that thing you mentioned.” Sometimes this moves towards more generic helpful tips, along the lines of, “Have you tried a nice cup of tea / hot bath / going for a walk / phoning a friend?” Advice and tips on all sorts of things. It happens offline too.  It can be good advice. Generally it’s well-meant. But …  is it welcome? Well, maybe yes. And maybe no.

The thing is, if someone is managing a mental health (or physical) condition, especially if they’ve been doing so for a while, they’ve probably had a good old go at trying the various drugs, treatments, therapies, supplements and diets on offer. They may be working their way through them with their healthcare team. They may be researching in the library or online. They may have joined a self-help group or forum. They may even have tried any number of hocus pocus remedies that make it into the Daily Mail or documentaries. So, when someone tweets about their condition and you’re tempted to mention something off the top of your head, think: are they asking for advice?

If it’s an offline friend or family member you know well, do they see a doctor and take medication regularly for their condition? Do they have a self-management plan? If someone is managing a long-term condition, the likelihood is they’re keeping some sort of track of how they’re doing. “Are you sure you’re not doing too much and, you know, starting to go hypo?” “Isn’t it time to go to bed now?” “Did you forget to take your medication today? You seem a bit … you know.”

Such comments can be helpful: sometimes we can ignore our own self-management early warning signs and only pay attention when we hear it from someone we trust. If you know someone well enough, or if they’ve asked you to be part of their self-management team – an early warning ally, as it were – it may be appropriate to chip in. But otherwise?

Unsolicited advice to someone managing a long term health condition can be seen as patronising. It may feel like criticism. It can be viewed as a sign that the advice-giver does not respect the person’s ability to manage their own healthcare needs properly. It can be seen as a suggestion that the person does not know their own mind … which, in the context of managing a  mental health problem, puts the advice-giver in really dodgy territory. Really dodgy.

Why am I writing this post now? Because only today I was reminded of how quick I can be to offer unsolicited advice. To leap in with handy hints and tips about how they could make their life better … if only they’d do as I suggest.  Partly that comes from my work background; partly because, being fairly long in the tooth, I (think I) know a lot of stuff; and party because I have a caring nature & like to help. Once, in response to a tweet from veteran mental health writer and thought leader Mark Brown (twitter: @MarkOneinFour), I tweeted “helpful advice” about light boxes. Of course, he’d tried that back at the dawn of time. Luckily he let me off the hook graciously.  Earlier today, I spotted a tweet about a medication issue I had faced myself. I replied with several helpful practical tips … Or so I thought. Because then I remembered … no advice had been sought. And that’s when I coined the term “madsplaining“. Let me explain.

I first came across the term “mansplaining” (with an “n”) when tweeter Phil Dore (twitter @thus_spake_z) used it.  When I did an online search, this (from Urban Dictionary) was on the first page that came up:

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“Mansplaining: To explain in a patronizing manner, assuming total ignorance on the part of those listening. The mansplainer is often shocked and hurt when their mansplanation is not taken as absolute fact, criticized or even rejected altogether. Named for a behavior commonly exhibited by male newbies on internet forums frequented primarily by women. Often leads to a flounce. Either sex can be guilty of mansplaining.

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A lot of the terribly clever online debate passes right over my head, and that’s as far as my knowledge of “mansplaining” goes (though I understand it’s been used online in feminist discourse for several years).  As it happened, it fitted perfectly with an encounter I’d recently had with a trainee psychiatrist: he was very new to twitter, had dived into an ongoing conversation with a patronising explanation, and was then flumoxed when I pointed that out. The “flounce” went on for quite some time.

And so what do you think happened when I first tweeted the word madsplaining …? Yes, you guessed it: I got mansplained!

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So after “mansplaining”, do we have madsplaining? ie offering unsolicited advice to someone on how they should manage their mental health (My tweet)

I think that would be psychsplaining. mad folks being splained to. but i notice your rhetoric is from feminist & poc activism… Erick Fabris (twitter: @exic)

Oh hi Erick, are you mansplaining to me what I mean when I say madsplaining …? (My tweet)

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Priceless. Well, thanks for asking, Erick, but I do mean just that: madsplaining. As other tweeps chipped in:

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This is perfect! madsplaining gets right on my tits! “Have you just tried….?” “Everyone worries…” Hahahahaha my new word!Molly Teaser (twitter @mollteaser36)
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Always fascinated about how much they know about their advice and how little they know of me. It’s the assumption that just because their advice works on their own neurosis, it works for everyone else. MH Extremist (twitter @wildwalkerwoman)
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“You mean: “Snap out of it” “cheer up!” It’s all in your mind” “What have you got to be depressed about?” YES. Can you imagine this: “Cancer? You don’t look like you have cancer. Pull yourself together, get over it.” Ect” MScarlet Wilde (twitter @wilde)
 

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I draw a distinction between madsplaining and what I call “patienting“, which is when someone uses your status as a “mental patient” to try to shut you up. An example would be (as has happened to me several times on twitter) a mental health professional will say to me something along the lines of, “Think you’d better take your meds now, love”.  Perhaps that’s a topic for another blog.

And, finally, here’s a little interchange to bring a smile to your face:

Or will this all turn meta and become splainsplaining?Phil 

I blame you entirely, Phil, for introducing me to the word “mansplaining” … which you can take any way you like ;-D (My tweet)

The concept of splainsplaining is kinda blowing my mind Dr Sarah Knowles (twitter: @dr_know)

Don’t worry, I’ll splainsplainsplain it to youPhil

*head explodes*Sarah

 
Sometimes I love twitter. And sometimes I need to take my own advice.
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web links 5.

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  • My twitter conversation on Storify:
  • What have you got to be so depressed about?Men Will Pause blog by Scarlet Wilde (twitter: @wilde), written in response to the madsplaining twitter conversation
  • Eric Fabris‘s website – Mr Fabris is a Canadian researcher, artist and writer. Amongst other things, he lectures at the Ryerson University School of Disability Studies.

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5 Responses to “Madsplaining … as it was mansplained to me. On offering advice to people with mental health problems”

  1. greynomatter 19 August 2013 at 5:47 am #

    Great article. Plenty of madsplaining takes place in hospitals and ‘ward rounds’ up my neck of the woods. Could you give me a few suggestions or tips to support mental health staff in moving away from this unhealthy addiction/strategy….

  2. mollteaser 19 August 2013 at 11:00 am #

    Reblogged this on F Words. Fat, Forty and Fucking Mental and commented:
    Amazing post on #madsplaining, the ignoble art of pissing off people with mental health issues, by offering *advice*, cures, life enhancing routines or telling them to suck it up and grow a pair.
    I’ve been #madsplained to, on more occasions than I wish to recall. Sometimes with genuine care and loving intentions…other times, because, you know mentalhealth isn’t sexy, or comfortable to talk about.

    Read and laugh/weep.

  3. Evita 19 August 2013 at 11:20 am #

    I think it’s kind of easier to take that from someone who knows about the condition first hand, but from folk who haven’t been ill themselves? It’s often the worst kind as well!

  4. TheOTprocess 29 August 2013 at 7:20 pm #

    Just discovered your blog and I think it’s great. I’m training as an OT and think it’s a great reality check; it makes me think deeper about why we do what we do and how it makes people feel. Look forward to more of your posts.

  5. womanunadorned 29 November 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    Is there an equivalent for speaking to mums? Cos I parent a teenager with severe mental illness and for whatever reason, the world and his dog thinks they can do this job better than me. Particularly those who have never tried parenting of any sort, even the easy non-mental sort. Is this mumsplaining?

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