Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How We Respond When People Seek Help

On Friday and Sunday, I responded to two emails from Josh, someone who's never commented on my blog before, but asked for advice about depression. Not only did I spend a lot of time writing him a list of recommendations, but many of you did as well.

I have no idea whether Josh will pursue the suggestions we recommended, but I've thought a lot about people who ask for advice. During the eighteen months I've written this blog, I've gone out of my way to respond to people who ask for advice. My reason is that when I was so sorely in need of advice during my sickest moments, there were few people who responded.

I contacted doctors who had written books on depression and lived in Los Angeles and they never returned my calls. I wrote the president of an Orthomolecular organization who lived in San Francisco, and he never returned my email.

During a period in which I was so sick I didn't see how I could survive--and my doctor was not at all responsive--I emailed a few friends and acquaintances who had contacts within the psychiatric community, asking if they could recommend anyone who might help me, and they ignored me. One time I contacted a woman who'd written a book on yoga and depression, and she said she didn't know anyone in Los Angeles, but I could come to her very expensive workshop in another city.

Ultimately, I was stunned by these people's callousness, because throughout my life I have helped friends and relatives as well as total strangers. If I know people who are sick, I volunteer to do whatever I can for them. I have recommended doctors to people I barely know. I have offered to research my friends' illnesses. I have driven people to doctor's appointments and visited others at the hospital.

For the last eight years of my mother's life, my husband and I had her over for dinner every Sunday, and when I was depressed and couldn't entertain her, I drove over to her house and served her dinner. I visited my mom at least three days a week and was always willing to come over when she called.

The only people I don't help are those who "cry wolf" over and over, and people who won't do the least bit to help themselves. But I've never refused to offer advice and encouragement to strangers as well as loved ones.

What they do with my advice or my willingness to help is another matter. I often wonder about people who ask for advice, and then don't respond at all. Not even a thank you. And I'm surprised by people who seek advice and yet ignore it because it means they'll have to stop denying they have a problem and start dealing with it.

But despite all that, I will still offer to help...because so few have been there for me when I needed them.


Catatonic Kid said...

You are a thoroughly generous person, Susan but I don't see any reason that that should be an exception rather than a rule.

For some people perhaps it is a 'first do no harm' kind of thing I hesitate to offer advice sometimes because I know full well that what works for me may not be at all useful for someone else - may indeed make their difficulties greater, their burdens heavier. Yet still when someone asks me for it I would rarely refuse them.

But more generally, with folks who are professional care givers or who are in a position to give authoritative advice I do wonder what's going on in their minds. It would, seemingly, cost them very little to offer a bit of direction to someone in search of help - especially knowing that there are so many folks out there who prey on those in such a vulnerable position. Why not give a little knowledge, a little time here and there?

Nobody is saying everyone is going to be a good Samaritan - the world surely does not work that way - but just a drop of encouragement or support would do a world of a good.

I suppose some people may not realise how dire the need is but that's willful blindness. There is no need for each of us to suffer alone with these burdens. It's so easy to reach out when the other person has already reached out first and asked you to do that, and only that. Why not?

Jazz said...

I think it's wonderful that you still have that wanting-to-help feeling even after all the help you asked for but didn't get. I guess having been in a rotten situation like that can either make you cynical and cold or make you want to make sure other people don't have to go through the same thing you did. I'm glad you ended up wanting to help people!

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Catatonic Kid,
I've never understood it myself. I've often thought that one of the problems is that so few people truly understand what clinical depression is like. They don't know how extraordinarily painful it is and how difficult it is to even seek out help.

If they did, they wouldn't ignore someone who reaches out to them.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Jazz,
I guess it's because of my experience that I can't refuse to help others in need. Since I was always so proactive in my approach to wellness, I felt I was a model patient. Since I did so much research and worked so hard to become well, I was always so disappointed when people who pretended they had the answers wouldn't try in the least to help me.

But if I remained angry, it would destroy my life. So, I decided to provide for others what wasn't provided for me.


P.J. said...

I was curious as to why I saw no responses from Josh about this truly WONDERFUL thing you have done for him. To take time to go into such detail is something that not many people would do. You really are a giving person, and I think that's why you have so many faithful readers who DO really APPRECIATE everything you have to say.

Hold your head high. You help a lot of people, whether they come back to thank you or not. Sure would be nice, though, if 'thank you' wasn't such a hard statement for some people to say.

You do a great work here, and I believe that you are fulfilling one of the purposes that God put you on this earth in the first place. Good on you!!

So, for all of those who don't say it, THANK YOU!!!

kara said...


I appreciate you.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear PJ,
Thanks so very much. I do know that you and some others are very appreciative. Still, it always feels good to hear it.

I also believe that if we have an illness and find a way not only to survive--but to flourish--the only thing that makes sense is to share what we learn.

FYI...Josh did respond to my first post, but not to the second. Whether he will act on all we recommended I have no idea. He wrote that he was overwhelmed. He also wrote that he suffers from Obsession Compulsive Behavior--something he hadn't mentioned before, which is a critical part of the equation.

But, in general, I agree that saying "Thank you" is such a small thing to do, but it makes a huge difference.

I somehow think that must be one of the reasons why the people in their lives stop helping. But, that's just conjecture on my part.


Wellness Writer said...

Thank you!


Mary said...

Susan: You are so generous, in what you do, giving advice to someone and then not hearing from them, or a thank you is so callous of them. You found it in yourself to reach out and help others even though you never got the help and guidance that you needed. you are a wonderful person, and I am so happy that I have found you blog. Take care Mary

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mary,
Thanks so much. How very sweet of you!