themighty logo

Artist Sonaksha Iyengar Creates Instagram Series on Unsolicited Mental Health Advice


Living with a mental illness is tough on its own, but add unsolicited, ignorant advice to the mix, and you can feel alone and misunderstood as well. Sonaksha Iyengar, an artist based in Bengaluru, India, is calling out these ill-advised comments with a new series of illustrations on Instagram.

“When I began receiving this advice, it added to my already existing guilt for being ill,” Iyengar told The Mighty. “It led to spiraling thoughts of hating myself, feeling like I’m an ungrateful person, feeling like I’m not enough or not even trying to be better. Especially since living with a mental illness can make one feel so alone.”

View this post on Instagram

So so so so many of you messaged in and said that this is something you've been told many times. "Others have it worse." I can't even begin to explain how problematic and detrimental it is. Can we please stop putting people's pain on a scale? You cannot measure pain, you just cannot. It's easier in theory than in practice because we've been geared to compete in every way and form of our lives, pain is no less. So the instinctual thing to do seems to be to compare it. But no, that's just not how it works. There's no hierarchy to pain. Your pain is as valid as mine. Of course it's important to check in and be grateful for all you have. But saying that someone living with a mental illness is just ungrateful is so wrong! In fact as I've mentioned in the previous posts, there's already a lot of guilt associated with mental illness; add the looming stigma to it and it weighs down heavily on someone who is possibly already experiencing debilitating pain. I know I've been saying this in every post but mental illness is not a choice. #PublicPrescription – – – – – – – – Image description: Illustration of a person's face at the bottom of the page in pink, looking up. Water waves surround the face. On the left side it says, 'Diagnosis: Others have it worse.' And on the right side it says 'Prescription: Think about it, be grateful.' The text is hand lettered. In between the text there is a dotted yellow line.

A post shared by Sonaksha (@sonaksha) on

Iyengar’s series, “Public Prescription,” is a criticism of the unsolicited “advice” people give others with mental illness.

“Sometimes mental illnesses might not manifest with physical symptoms and people automatically assume that just because they can’t ‘see’ it, it doesn’t exist,” Iyengar said. “Often these pieces of advice come from a place of ignorance, and that is something I hope to address with this series.”

View this post on Instagram

Doesn't matter what mental illness you're living with, 'stop worrying' seems to be a public favourite prescription. It doesn't work that way though. While it can often come from a place of ignorance, some people honestly believe that it's 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's understandable that you might want to 'fix it' especially if you're seeing a loved one in pain, offering something as simple as don't worry as a solution simplifies and invalidates what they are going through. It's okay to not have the answers, no one is expecting you to. Often, the best kind of help and support is to listen. #PublicPrescription (If you're just seeing this, visit my previous post to know more about this series.) – – – – – – Image description: Illustration of an open mouth with the words 'stop worrying it will go away' lettered inside it. Public prescription is written below the lower lip. The background is black with a few other offensive things people say to people living with mental illnesses lettered on it.

A post shared by Sonaksha (@sonaksha) on

She said she most often hears “get over it” or “others have it worse” when she talks about living with anxiety and depression. She decided to create the series after talking to others who had heard similar comments.

“There seems to be this constant need to compare pain and put it on a scale,” Iyengar said. “We’ve been geared to constantly compete and that seems to be spilling over.”

View this post on Instagram

Laziness is defined as the quality of being unwilling to work or use energy; idleness. The key word here is unwilling, but with time and use of the word in various situations we throw it around more casually than we should. One such instance is when people substitute a mental illness with the word lazy. Mental illnesses can be extremely debilitating, which often means that even basic tasks can become arduous. Whether that's getting out of bed, having a shower or making a meal, what might seem effortless and the bare minimum, can be a strenuous thought for someone living with a mental illness. I'm going to share two different personal experiences that might hopefully be more helpful in illustrating the difference. Scenario 1: A while ago, during a depressive episode I couldn't step out of my bed, with the exception of using the toilet. I would stay under my blanket all day, unable to move, speak or do anything. Sinking. I had no idea what day it was or what time it was. I just stayed there. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, didn't matter. Thankfully I had a support system that ensured I had at least a meal or two a day. This is what mental illness could look like. Scenario 2: Every now and then I spend the weekends tucked into bed with my books, doing readathons. I order in food and remain in my pyjamas all day. This is a choice. I'm choosing to not do anything and instead laze around. People often say 'mental illness is a laziness' or 'motivation' is all one needs to 'cure' mental illness. Imagine someone already in pain with a debilitating illness being told this absolutely horrendous incorrect thing? We need to stop using laziness and mental illness as synonyms. They are not. #PublicPrescription (Image description in the comments)

A post shared by Sonaksha (@sonaksha) on

Iyengar hopes the series reminds others they are not alone. She also wants those who dole out “advice” to understand that their comments can be dangerous. She’s already had one person message her on Instagram to say she forwarded the series to family, so they could talk about her mental health in a better way.

View this post on Instagram

Can you imagine how frustrating it is to hear these things when you know they aren't going to magically make all your struggles vanish? I've 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're referring to. Here's 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. I elaborate more on this in my TedX talk from earlier this year (in case you want to listen). In the mean time, please don't shower this advice upon anyone. #PublicPrescription – – – – – – – – Image description: Illustration of a teal piece of paper on a background full of emojis. The paper has public prescription lettered on top with little pills drawn below in different colours. There are three things written below. The first one says get over it and prescribes 2 in the morning, afternoon and night dosage, the second one says just chill and prescribes a morning and night dosage. The third one says good night's sleep for 10 days. At the bottom is a scribble signature and a stamp that says certified: world advisor. There are two ice cubes on the left side and a yellow hand reaching out from above. Mania, PTSD and Paranoia are written in bold scattered around.

A post shared by Sonaksha (@sonaksha) on

This isn’t the first mental health illustrative series from Iyengar. In 2017, Iyengar created “A to Z of Mental Health,” which illustrated different conditions as well as busted myths about each.