Posted by: Kate | February 17, 2008


I totally understand the urge to help people.  To want to get involved, to fix, to do something.  And there are ways it can happen – donations of time and effort, being quietly and uncomplicatedly available, making the effort to pick up the phone or send something in the mail.

But I find it painfully common that people want to help in ways that aren’t, actually, all that helpful.  Families of suicidal patients want to be told what they can do to make the person feel happy again, emergency department doctors want to prescribe medications to mask the symptoms, coworkers want to step far beyond the boundaries of protocol and legalities to do what they think is morally right.  Husbands want to listen to your problems and try to solve them, friends stay quiet during times of stress or loss because they don’t want to interfere, coworkers make their special patented icky face and passive-aggressively disagree because it’s for your own good to know how they would’ve done things.  You get the idea.

The reality?  It bites.  The reality is that you can’t fix another person. You can impose your solutions and sometimes even offer a temporary improvement, but at the end of the day, mental health isn’t about some independently established set of rules and guidelines.  There’s no single right answer, no universal way to grieve or heal.

It’s always – trust me, always – easier to solve someone else’s problems than your own, because you’re looking at it from your own life and perspective.  Their problems are simple, it’s yours that are unfixable.   Same goes for them: your problems seem manageable, while theirs are all complicated with history and relationships and guilt and whatnot.  It’s just not that easy, they say.  You don’t understand.  It’s different for me.

So it ends up frustrating all around.  The well-intentioned helpers are upset when their solutions don’t work, and the One Less Fortunate (in whatever form that fortune could take) is still in distress.  Actual help involves things like tolerating frustration and following someone else’s lead.  Harder than it sounds.

This rant brought to you by Heidi Klum’s offer to “help” Britney Spears.  Seriously.  How can she possibly imagine that a vacation in a house full of strangers and toddlers is going to help this woman get her life back together?  I don’t pretend to know what it is that Britney would need to get her life under control, and I’m a so-called professional.  Heidi can help me (or Britney) if we need to get kicked off a reality show about fashion.  Otherwise?  It’s a cute little headline grabber that keeps Britney in the news even when she’s not going pantsless in public, not to mention giving Heidi an extra moment in the public consciousness.  Super-helpful, indeed.

Maybe Heidi deserves the benefit of the doubt; maybe she’s thinking in a selfless and benevolent manner.  Fine, but stop and think of what sorts of chaos and uncontrollability she’s – albeit hypothetically – inviting into her home and impressing upon her own children.  Think about how incredibly unnatural and random it would be for anyone struggling with mental illness to end up in a house with Heidi Klum and Seal.

Sometimes, if you can’t find a way to help from that person’s perspective instead of from your own, it’s better to just not help.



  1. Wow, I hadn’t heard of this, but you are right—so incredibly random. And, if Britney has been judged to be a danger around her own children, why in the world would you want her around yours???

  2. That quote “I would set her straight” in the article tells me Heidi understands nothing of the complexities involved. The ego that says “I can fix you” is a problem-attitude that just adds to the situation.

  3. I am emailing you

  4. “but we’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy”

  5. Aghhh! now I go that song in my head!!! Thanks Sara. 😉
    I must agree on all levels of what you said. Plu the fact that her addiction to the media is still being filled by this mindless effort to “help her” by other media hungry celebrities. I wish there was a “miracle pill” for mental illness and depression the world would be a much nicer, happier and safer place.

  6. Actually, I don’t think it’s entirely random on Heidi Klum’s part. Britney wanted to have playdates with her before the proverbial fan was shat upon. Naturally the media gives an accurate portrayal of this, but it seemed like Britney was trying to establish a relationship with Heidi and maybe looked up to her. Maybe Heidi’s feeling a little guilty at maybe missing a cry for help and/or sanity, or something.

  7. Oh, I hear you, Lisa, it’s not as random as, say, *me* offering to take Britney in… but having met once or twice still leaves them largely strangers.

    And FOM, double that – apparently right after her release from the hospital, Britney called up a local dance school and asked to be allowed to teach an age 4-7 class. Only one set of parents in that class thought that perhaps her notoriety and illness might make her less than the ideal candidate for the position right this moment. Now let me be clear that if I had a daughter who was a dancer and could sign her up, long term, Britney might be ideal – she obviously knows more than I do about the topic. But not right now. If she’s considered by the courts to be too ill to be with her own children even with supervision, then we’ll just wait a little.

  8. Just wanted to say hi. I’m also a knitter and I’m on Ravelry as dcknitdiva. Your blog caught my eye ’cause of the candleflame scarf. Just lovely.

  9. What a great point. I need to be reminded of this myself, even with all my years of training and being in the field, I still, once in a while, let my emotions or I should say, find my emotions wanting to go into that “fix it mode.” Who am I really trying to help or what need am I really trying to fill. Great insight and point.

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