A security guard where I work at The Menninger Clinic in Houston calls me “Doc” whenever I pass him by. Though I am not a doctor or even a clinician, I don’t correct him. It seems like a rude thing to do, so I let it go, nod, smile and move on.
I don’t criticize his assumption. After all, I have two things in common with many doctors: I am portly, which is a fine and kind word, and I sport a beard, a white one. In the cold months, I wear those academic clothes–tweeds and elbow patches and such–that college professors used to wear, so I get where the guard is coming from.
Unfortunately, the security guard is not alone. Others who know I work at a hospital where mental illness is treated often call upon me for a professional opinion. This is like asking Dr. Pepper® about how to avoid tooth decay.
“Roger, why does Lucy drink? She has everything going for her, so what’s her problem? How do I get her to stop?”
Lucy calls me with many of the same questions. “Do I drink too much? Am I an alcoholic? Tell me!”
“Roger, tomorrow night we’re having an intervention for Lucy, can you call in? What would you do?”
How about cancer?
No one ever asks me about their cancer treatment and that’s the point. Why should they? And why should anyone ask me or their best friend to analyze a problem of the mind? Mental illness is a difficult problem. It is not a topic for chats or easy answers. Only when we take these issues as seriously as heart disease will we see stigma decrease.
No one should ask me my opinion about anyone’s mental health or ask me to diagnose a potential addiction. I am as qualified to discuss a person’s mental health as Dr. Dre or Dr. Who. But I get it. People are frustrated and relish a familiar face when asking momentous questions, especially about their mental states.
Find an expert
My advice in all cases is to steer a person toward an expert. If you want to know how to treat your uncle’s cancer, or your own, don’t ask me. I’m not a doctor. Just because I work at a mental health facility doesn’t mean you should ask me to tell you what’s going on inside your mind or someone else’s.
That’s like asking me to fix your car because I drive one.