How often do you receive unsolicited health advice? For many people with chronic illness or disability, the answer is “far too often”.
It usually comes from a well-meaning place. A person we care about may offer their thoughts on how we’re managing our health or tell us about something they saw on television. For me, it sometimes even comes from other people in my life with similar health conditions.
The problem is, those people typically do not have any medical background or experience. They are basing their opinions on things they have heard others in positions of authority say.
Unfortunately, that position of authority may be nothing more than the appearance on daytime television or the internet.
Likewise, other people in our lives who have the same or similar chronic illnesses cannot give us medical advice. They do not live in our bodies. They do not lead our lives. They cannot possibly understand our situations well enough to properly advise us, let alone speak over our actual concerns regarding our conditions.
If you are experiencing this unsolicited health advice in your everyday life, know that you’re not alone. Also know that you do not have to accept them with a grateful smile. There are plenty of ways to politely yet pointedly let people know that you do not need their advice – and hopefully keep them from offering that advice again in the future.
Keep Things Polite with a Simple Thank You
You may be the type of person who can’t stand to feel rude to others. While it is not rude to tell people to mind their business about your health, there are polite ways to stop the conversation.
The easiest way for most people to address the issue is just to say thank you and move on. If this is a person you won’t see regularly or who you don’t know well, a simple thanks is often enough to satisfy them.
Remember, most of the time, people just want what’s best for you. They probably don’t actually know what that would be, which is why they are giving you unsolicited health advice. But if they’re just trying to be nice, return the favor – and then change the subject.
Talk About Your Current Approach
If you have a chronic illness or disability, you probably already have a plan in place for symptom management. Many of these conditions cannot be cured, so management is key.
It is not unkind to let people who ask about your health know that you are already managing the problem.
They may only see what they perceive as struggling – you using a mobility aid, carefully curating your diet, or needing rest after a busy day. While those things are not actually indicators of your treatment approach failing, they may see it that way.
Educate them. Let them know that your condition is being managed as well as is possible and that you are happy with your current approach.
If they continue to push, let them know that your condition requires this kind of lifestyle change. It is not a failure on your part; it is just the way life works when you have that specific chronic illness or disability.
Again, many people who offer unsolicited health advice do so because they feel worried about you. It is coming from a place of care and concern. Provide education to ease that concern.
Refer to Your Doctor
When my well-meaning family offers advice, my conversation shutdown is always the same. I tell them that I am working with a great healthcare team who I like and trust.
Usually, people will stop pressing the issue if you let them know you are under medical supervision. The opinion of doctors will usually trump whatever random advice your loved ones may have to offer, because they understand that your doctor knows best.
This isn’t always the case. I have an aunt that always encourages me to get a second, third, or even more opinions on everything. So, I have to go a little further with people like this – and I would advise you to do the same.
Let them know that you are working with a healthcare team. Maybe you only have one doctor, but you have probably seen specialists, had lab work done, seen a physician therapist or gotten mental health counseling. Regardless of what services you are receiving, those multiple perspectives are a great thing to mention when you are shooting down unsolicited health advice.
Ask Family Members or Friends to Speak Up on Your Behalf
Many people who are disabled or chronically ill receive unsolicited health advice from their in-laws, distant relatives, or friends of friends. When this happens, you can and should ask your loved ones to step in and ask these people to stop.
If your spouse’s family has opinions that you don’t like hearing, tell your spouse this. They can intercede on your behalf, making the situation a little less awkward. This way, you can make a point without making things uncomfortable for yourself or your in-laws.
The same goes for your mother’s sister, your brother’s girlfriend, or your best friend’s husband. Ask the person who is closer to you to speak with them about how their offer of unsolicited advice bothers you.
Hopefully, the next time you see them, the topic won’t come up again.
Just Say No
You want to be polite. You want to keep things from getting awkward.
But sometimes, there is no other way to approach things.
If you are repeatedly receiving unsolicited health advice, it is probably time to be honest. Let the person offering this advice know that their words and actions are bothering you. Be honest and be direct.
You don’t have to be rude. No need to call names. But being open and honest may be the only way to communicate your feelings with others – especially if the situation keeps happening.
For me, this response varies by person. So, I’ve collected a few examples here for you. Each one may be better for a particular person or situation in your life, so mull them over before deploying them yourself:
- “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t really need any advice right now.”
- “I don’t think that would work for me, but I really appreciate you reaching out.”
- “I’m not really interested in trying that.”
- “I’ll keep that in mind, but I have a treatment plan I like right now.”
- “I appreciate your concern, but I need to listen to my doctor right now.”
If the person continues to reach out, you are well within your rights to escalate from there. An example of an escalation for me has been:
“I know you’re trying to help, but sending me articles or giving me advice when I have asked previously not to receive them makes me feel ignored. Please stop, because it really puts a damper on the time we spend together.”
Remember, you and your healthcare team are ultimately the people who know best for you. While others might have your best interests at heart, they don’t actually know what those best interests are.
Don’t be afraid to protect your peace by speaking up for yourself. You are worth it!