To me, this can be the single most hurtful thing you can say to a person with mental illness.
“You’re Just Doing This For Attention!” Someone claims this about you. They mean it in a negative way. They mean it to invalidate whatever you have just done or said. They mean it to dismiss you.
You can find other blogs and articles that do a good job of explaining why this phrase itself is so invalidating. You can find other blogs and articles that do a good job explaining why it isn’t the case that someone is doing this “just for attention”. But what I want to explore is, why is this necessarily a negative to begin with?
What if someone DID, actually, need a little attention? What if they needed a lot of attention? What if that’s part of what brought them this far down into depression in the first place? What if the loneliness is eating them alive? What if their lives are spiraling out of control and they’re just trying, trying to grab hold of something to anchor themselves for a moment? And how is it that it’s so common to DISMISS these people with that stupid catch phrase?! OH YOU CAN IGNORE HIM/HER. S/HE’S JUST DESPERATELY LONELY AND BEGGING AND PLEADING FOR YOUR ATTENTION. LET’S LEAVE, QUIETLY AND QUICKLY AND WITH A SNIDE REMARK TO LET HIM/HER KNOW THAT NO, WE DON’T ACTUALLY GIVE A SHIT ABOUT HIS/HER STATE OF BEING. “You’re just doing this for attention!”
- what if i need a hug?
- what if i need your time?
- what if i need your ear?
- what if i need your shoulder for my tears?
Maybe there is someone out there who actually DOES need your attention. Maybe their behaviors or statements scare you, or make you uncomfortable. Maybe they have tried to impose on you for a moment of your time. “You’re just doing this for attention!” Maybe they DO need your attention…
So instead of outright dismissing them with this hurtful statement, maybe you could try to acknowledge their existence with respect, even if you don’t know the words to say or have the time to give.