Reader bzzzzgrrrl reads Dear Abby so I don’t have to; Friday’s Dear Abby column featured this question:
Dear Abby: A friend of more than 40 years, “Myra,” delivered a letter to my physician outlining her observations of what she claims were “changes” in me. I was called into my doctor’s office to respond.
Myra has also told me I should see a psychiatrist. I am disappointed that a friend would say these things about me, and I don’t think she should have contacted my doctor without telling me. I have asked others if they have noticed any dramatic changes in me and no one else has.
Myra may have my best interests at heart, but I am upset about this, to say the least. Am I wrong to feel that she has overstepped her boundaries? — Perfectly Fine in Ohio
I was reminded immediately of the story our abby jean linked to on Thursday, about a young man with depression who dared to talk with his friends about suicidal feelings, and got the cops called on him.
How does syndicated advice columnist Abby respond?
Dear Perfectly Fine: Your friend must have been extremely concerned about you to have taken the step she did. And I wish you had mentioned in your letter WHY she thinks you should see a psychiatrist. If you have no family nearby with whom she could discuss her concerns, it’s possible that she did what she did out of love for you, so please try to forgive her.
P.S. Was what she did out of character for her? If so, consider discussing it with her family — or physician.
Ah, yes, a little ‘furnish the details!’ plus ‘you should turn the tables on her and talk to her family or her doctor!’ I mean, seriously, Abby not only supports the concern trolling, but seems to suggest that Perfectly Fine should feel guilty. ‘She meant it for your own good, you know!’ And then demands that Perfectly Fine detail whatever it was that made this ‘friend,’ we’ll call her Busybody, tattle-tale to the doctor. Then, she follows up with ‘well, maybe you should talk to Busybody’s doctor in case there’s something wrong with her.’ Of course, Abby ignores the fact that Perfectly Fine might well already be in treatment, and just not feel like sharing it with the world, and that’s not Abby’s business, ours, or Busybody’s.
How many things are wrong with this story, and with this response? It’s kind of hard to start enumerating them. But both of these stories, Perfectly Fine’s and the story abby linked to, reflect a generally held idea that it’s perfectly acceptable and even advisable to directly meddle in the lives of others ‘for their own good,’ especially when it comes to mental health. Contacting someone’s doctor because you think that person has ‘changed’ is incredibly intrusive and violating. Calling the police on your friend when ou tries to reach out and talk is a pretty awful thing to do. Both things happen a lot, and sometimes they end in very ugly ways, like involuntary psychiatric holds. As soon as someone is suspected of mental illness, the words and beliefs of the people around that person matter more than ou own statements. That is a really, really, really scary place to be in, to know that no matter what you say, people will ignore you.
What ever happened to ‘you seem a little down, do you want to talk about it?’ Or, if someone tells you that ou is having suicidal thoughts, ‘is there anything I can do to help?’ There are all kinds of reasons why Perfectly Fine might have been experiencing a change in mood. Perfectly Fine might be really busy, might be irked at Busybody for something and not ready to talk about it, might be having a medical problem ou doesn’t feel like talking about, might be grieving a loss, having a tough time at work, or any number of other things, although it’s telling that ou friends didn’t notice anything. The first step when someone you are close to appears to be behaving out of character is not to run and tell the doctor or call the police, but to make it clear that you are available to talk if that person is interested.
I am very disappointed in Dear Abby’s response. It reflects a profound lack of respect for personal autonomy, and reinforces some very upsetting social attitudes.