Marja Bergen

author, mental health advocate, follower of Christ

The problem with advice


Job’s three friends…set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:11-13


When Job suffered his many losses, his friends did all the right things. They came to him, empathized with him, and spent time, commiserating with him in silence.

But after seven days they could not stand by doing nothing. They made long speeches claiming that Job must be suffering because he had done something wrong. Repeatedly, they encouraged him to admit his wrong and repent so that God would bless him again.

I can imagine how Job must have felt. Blamed for his own suffering, though he had been helpless to avoid it.

Most of us who have suffered with mental illness will have had friends who hate to see us in our misery. They, like Job’s friends, find it hard to stand by without helping in some way. They tell us what they think we should do to get well. And often they’ll be quite forceful with their advice, thinking they understand our needs.

But they don’t.

Such friends don’t likely know what we’re going through. They don’t realize we haven’t brought this suffering upon ourselves. Often, what is most needed is medication to manage the problem until it has run its course. Mental illnesses are not unlike physical illnesses in that way.

There are, of course, ways to help us cope. Although those help, they don’t always make the illness disappear.

When well-meaning friends give advice, we’re made to feel that they think our illness is our own fault. Something we have the power to do something about. Something we can control.

But we’re suffering. We’re in pain. And we’re ill.

What we really need is patience, empathy, and love. Isn’t this what people with other illnesses most need as well?

The Bible tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)

marja bergen

1 Comment

  1. Thank you very much for your writing. I hope you will be able to keep it up.

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