If you’ve been trying to get help with a mental health problem then I am absolutely sure that you will meet some standard language along the way. There is, of course, the The Broken Leg Analogy which will be used to help you try and understand that you are really sick and should take medicine and rest. That has it’s uses to be fair. However there is another beastie you will hear quite a lot and it doesn’t feel very nice. That is:
“THERE IS NO MAGIC WAND”
This seems to be the go-to phrase when I really, really need help. It is staggeringly unhelpful and actually, a little bit offensive. Do patients of other illnesses get told that there is no magic wand? “Hey Ted, that’s the nature of cancer I’m afraid. There is no magic wand.” Lol? Brilliant. That statement is absolutely how to make a person who feels utterly worthless, contemptible and idiotic even worse about themselves.
I Get It, Do You?
I understand where this phrase comes from, I think? Basically there is a frustrated healthcare person who would like their patient to feel better. Unfortunately they don’t have the resources. They’re stretched to capacity and more. They’re working their arse off to continually feel like they can’t do enough. I get it. Hey, I’m a teacher. That’s our life too. So, dear HCP I understand that you are (usually) trying your best in a shitty situation but I wonder do you get that I am too? So when you suggest things and I seem to be dismissing them without a second thought could it be that, in all honesty, right now, I genuinely really feel like those particular suggestions are missing the point? It could be that I have desperately tried to manage this black tidal wave on my own already? Perhaps I’m not being difficult for shits-n-giggles and, guess what, given that I’m not an idiot I actually didn’t expect to ask for help and be told that someone would be on their way with their magic wand. Did I? Do you think that of me? I hope not. The magic wand statement gets brought out to kill the conversation and make it perfectly clear that there is nothing that can be done. Bugger. Off. (But please don’t kill yourself).
But There Is No Magic Wand
OK. Let’s think about this. A patient has reached out for help against all their instincts. For me I pick up the phone because I’m a good girl and I know that the nice people have made me a safety plan and that is the procedure so that is what I will follow because I am good and want to get better. So, when I do pick up the phone to speak to yet another stranger about something that is deeply upsetting (e.g. I wanted to set fire to my arm the other day, there’s more too but that’s enough to give you a flavour), personal and embarrassing please, please remember that the voice on the other end is a person who is desperate and vulnerable. What can you do for them? There is no magic wand but there is always caring, compassion and empathy. Maybe you have that instead and maybe, just maybe, that’s what the caller needs until something more concrete is available?
Here’s the other quite sad reality: when people tell me there is no magic wand it triggers me. I feel even worse. I am stupid for thinking anything could be done; I am pathetic for not coping; I am worthless and a waste of their time; it is hopeless I will never be better. And I feel confused too. Really confused. I did what they asked. They said when I felt like this to ring but then I rang and they were cross with me and told me they didn’t have a magic wand. I don’t know what to make of that. My depressed brain feasts upon it and the derogatory language in my head escalates: You fool. You absolute fucking fool. Why would anyone ever want to help you? You are so pathetic that you can’t be helped and now even more people know it. What did you think was going to happen you disgusting idiot? Don’t you realise that there are people much sicker than you, coping with so much more than you and here you are whinging about your own, stupid thoughts. Oh boo hoo. Do us all a favour, stop wasting our time and resources. You know how but you’re too bloody incapable to do even that aren’t you? And on and on and on and on it goes. Never stopping. Sometimes interrupted but always there.
So, what can people say instead of “There is no magic wand”? I don’t know. I’m sorry. Did you think I’d have the answer? I don’t have a….no…wait…stop – not saying that! With all the humanity and intelligence and compassion and empathy we do have though maybe we can just say the right thing for that person at that time? Perhaps it’s best not to make their cry for help sound like an unreasonable demand? I don’t know. I do know I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told that phrase and I will also warn you that it cuts deeper each time I hear it.