Anyone without a medical degree should stop playing doctor
There is something about revealing a medical diagnosis that turns the average listener into Dr. Gregory House.
If one chooses to publicly disclose an ailment, most people feel the need to put on their best scowl, roll up their sleeves and discover the cure for the disease. Much like House’s team of doctors or patients, there is nothing anyone can do to stop a wannabe doctor from deriding any past diagnosis or treatments as insufficient.
At its heart, the desire to offer medical advice is noble. In the absence of dragons to slay to protect loved ones, the modern person must settle for attempting to vanquish the horrors of the common cold. Unfortunately this is a battle that can result in unintended consequences.
Giving unsolicited medical advice makes one appear as warm and as loveable as the famously grouchy TV doctor. Telling someone to drink lots of fluids and get rest when they have a cold is not only obvious, but it’s completely condescending when the recipient is over the age of 10. In any circumstance, attempting to dictate what someone else does with their body is rude and inappropriate.
This guideline is doubly true if the advice contradicts the diagnosis of a medical professional. What you personally think is best could be harmful to someone else. Advising someone with medically diagnosed depression to “cheer up” or to “snap out of it” is insensitive and harmful.
Depression, like any other mental illness, has causes and effects that are out of the control of those diagnosed with it. Suggesting anyone with a mental illness can somehow conquer it with will alone belittles a serious problem.
Another reason to keep your inner doctor quiet has to do with the media, surprisingly. A recipe for making the best television and movies calls for the most extreme medical maladies to be trotted out for viewing pleasure. Hoarders whose houses hide mounds of filth, mass murders with multiple personalities and gruesome ER trips serve as daily entertainment for the masses. This leads many people to falsely believe the narrow reflection of the television screen encapsulates the wide spectrum of possible medical diagnoses.
The main instance media medical training rears its ugly head is with disabilities. For whatever reason, media consumption has left some with the impression that a disability does not exist unless it can be visually confirmed. Someone in a wheelchair will be accepted as disabled without question, but those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are disbelieved or thought to be perpetuating some sort of scam — as if there is anything to be gained by claiming to possess a disability.
Even those who appear qualified on the media to dispense medical advice can lead viewers astray. One prominent example is Dr. Mehmet Oz. Oz may be the host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and a board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon, but his dieting advice is so questionable he was called out for it by a U.S. Senate panel earlier this year.
One weight-loss product Oz endorsed on his show — going so far as to call it a “magic weight loss cure for every body type” — was green coffee extract. The endorsement from Oz caused a spike in the sales of green coffee extract as viewers took his advice to heart. Later, the study linking green coffee extract to weight loss was retracted due to the invalidity of the data, and Oz faced criticism for endorsing such a shady product. Oz is just one example of the hazards of blindly following the advice of anyone on television.
Keeping medical advice to yourself doesn’t necessarily mean the sick must be left to fend for themselves. Instead of offering the trendiest miracle cold cure the next time someone mentions suffering from the sniffles, ask them if there is anything you can help with. When someone trusts you enough to share a serious medical condition, offer love and support in place of medical insights or judgment. In the end, leaving the doctoring to the doctors is best for everyone involved.
Aleya Ericson can be reached at email@example.com