If you have experienced chronic illness or pain symptoms for longer than a month, then you have probably gotten unsolicited health advice, especially from healthy people. And if you’re like me and have had symptoms for longer than that, then you’ve gotten a LOT of it. To say it’s “pretty annoying” is a bit of an understatement.
A while ago (sorry for taking this long!!) someone requested I write a blog post about how to deal with getting heath advice from healthy people. Since I’ve dealt with chronic illness symptoms for nearly 2 decades, I have a lot of experience with it, which made me agree to write this post.
Below I’m sharing how to deal with unsolicited health advice from people who don’t know you personally and from people who do. I hope this post helps you find strategies and ways to make your life a bit easier.
Why is it annoying to get unsolicited health advice?
If you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance that you are someone who has gotten their fair share of unsolicited health advice.
But there’s always the chance that you’re someone who has given it, and if that’s the case, it’s important to explain why this is frustrating before we move forward.
Let’s say you’re talking to someone you know – like a friend or coworker – and you ask, “Have you tried [insert random treatment here] to feel better?” In that case, you’re basically saying, “I don’t think you’re trying hard enough to feel better. If you really were, you’d try this treatment that I, a layperson with zero medical education, have suggested.”
Let me tell you something: one of the first things you do when you’re diagnosed is turn to Google to find out everything you can. And if you’re talking to someone who has been diagnosed for years and years, they know more about the treatments out there than you do.
Let’s say that you’re talking to a stranger on the Internet and send a message or comment saying, “Have you tried [insert random treatment here]?” Here you’re saying, “I don’t care enough to find out what you’ve tried or what your medical history is. However, if you don’t try what I’ve suggested, then you’re settling for a life of pain/health issues and all future health issues are your own fault.”
Messages and comments from people suggesting random treatments really upset me because, as you can see here, the moral for all of them is pretty much that I’m not trying hard enough to feel better. This is true for conventional medical treatments as well as alternative ones.
There’s a chance that you meant to give advice because you care about the person! But that’s now how it feels.
Part of that is because I have gotten so much advice from people who don’t actually care about me as a person. They care about being right. They care about convincing people to buy their product. You get the picture.
Now that I’ve addressed why getting unsolicited health advice is annoying in the first place, let’s talk about what to do when you get it from someone you don’t know.
Getting Unsolicited Health Advice: When It’s Someone You Don’t Know
This could be someone who has given you advice online – such as replying to a post of yours or DMing – or it could be someone who just comes up to you when you’re out and about. I haven’t gotten in-person unsolicited health advice in a while, but that’s more about how because of COVID-19 I don’t really go places and when I do go places people aren’t really coming up to me because, again, COVID-19.
At one point, to avoid unsolicited advice, my pinned tweet said something like, “Please don’t give me advice unless I specifically ask for it.” Then, in follow-up posts, I explained that I’ve been in pain for a very long time and how giving me unsolicited advice is the quickest way to anger me.
Of course, this only kind of helped on Twitter, not anywhere else.
Most of the time, I just ignore it – I don’t reply, I don’t like, etc.
On Instagram, I started getting near-spam comments on my posts when I posted health posts. To stop that, I used the “mute” function to mute comments with certain words and phrases.
When you’re in your settings, click “Privacy.” Then, under “Interactions,” click “Comments.” In the filters, I have turned on “Hide Offensive Comments” and “Manual Filter”.
Under “Manual Filter,” you type in the words or phrases that you want muted. Additionally, I have “Filter Most Reported Words” turned on, which hides comments with words or phrases that are most commonly reported.What to do when someone you don't know gives you unsolicited advice Click To Tweet
Again, these things only work for certain types of social media and certain types of engagement.
My other suggest is to use the block and mute buttons liberally.
People not respecting your boundaries? Block. People who seem to mean well but just can’t get the message that you don’t want their suggestion? Mute ’em.
Don’t feel guilty for kicking people out of your space if they only seem to care about being right. If they don’t seem to care if you want to hear from them. If they don’t seem to care if you don’t want people giving you unsolicited advice.
Kick. Them. Out.
Plenty of people will say that you shouldn’t block or mute people for “just giving you advice.” Those people clearly don’t have the experience of getting unsolicited advice regularly for decades. They don’t understand, and they can’t understand unless they live it.
It’s one thing to get unsolicited advice from someone who you don’t know, but it’s something else entirely when it’s someone you do know. Let’s first talk about when it’s someone you know and they mean well.
Getting Unsolicited Health Advice: When It’s Someone You Know (And They Mean Well)
This is the easiest one to answer!
If someone in your life – who you know means well – keeps giving you unsolicited health advice, at some point you need to say something to them before it gets to the point where you are actively angry.
If their advice is something like, “You should try [whatever thing]!”, at a certain point, you could say something like, “I know that you mean well when you give me health advice, but it’s something I get a lot from a lot of random people, and I would rather leave my health to my medical team.”
If they keep giving you the same advice over and over again, you could say something like, “I know that you really believe in [repeat treatment], and if I try it I’ll let you know. But for now, I would appreciate if you stopped suggesting it.”
If they are confused or hurt, you could explain to them that you get a lot of advice from a lot of different people. You could explain that, while they mean well, you get a lot of unsolicited advice from people who don’t mean well.
Something else to try is to see if they are suggesting a treatment or if they are curious if you’ve tried a treatment. Maybe they are wondering if something actually works, but their phrasing isn’t clear. If you wonder this, it’s definitely worth asking them, “I know you suggest I try [repeat treatment] a lot. Are you suggesting it or are you wondering if it has worked? It’s unclear.” Then you can go from there.How to deal with people you know giving unsolicited health advice Click To Tweet
Getting Unsolicited Health Advice: When It’s Someone You Know (And You Don’t Know If They Mean Well)
Maybe this is a co-worker or a classmate or a new friend or someone in your family.
I’m going to assume that this is someone who you are going to have to see again or at least for the foreseeable future.
It’s always best to start with being police and nice. I’m not always good at this, but I try to smile and answer with a yes or no if they ask, “Have you tried [treatment]?” or the less-nice version of “Have you considered trying [treatment]?” (That second version is very condescending.)
If they are persistent and either in the moment or later ask you about other treatments, then it’s time to step it up. At that point, I would ask that person a question: “Just so I’m clear: are you wondering if I tried something or are you suggesting I try something?”
If they say that they are wondering, then deal with those questions how you want. Answer them all at once, tell them that you would rather not discuss your medical history, tell them to mind their own beeswax, etc.
If they are suggesting, then tell them that you would rather they didn’t. Tell them that having chronic illness or pain is confusing and difficult enough without getting advice from classmates/coworkers/family members/etc. Tell them that you hope that they mean well, but there are plenty of people who don’t mean well that it’s hard to tell sometimes.
If they insist on asking you questions or giving you advice, then tell them to stop. Use the word please, phrase it as a question, swear, whatever you feel is necessary.
What it all comes down to is the fact that we get a LOT of unsolicited advice. So sometimes, I feel a bit snippy about it! If you mean well, just know that we’re probably good without your advice. If you don’t mean well or you don’t know the person you’re talking to well, just know that we really don’t care what you have to say and you should just keep it to yourself.
Chronic patients: what do you wish people knew when they gave you health advice?
Like this post? Check out:
What Is Self-Advocacy? An Answer + Strategies To Help, Living Life with Chronic Illness: Common Problems & Their Solutions, The Impact of Chronic Illness on an Individual, How Chronic Illness Affects Relationships