One of them being the fact that in our country, there are a lot of ingrained, accepted, and ignorantly dispersed stereotypes about mental health issues and the people who have them. EVERY family runs into these issues at some point. No, I don’t have a source for that “fact” but I’m fairly confident…now wait a minute, here’s some handy stats, do what you will with them, from the National Institute of Mental Health. All about the prevalence of various mental health issues. According to their presented information, about one in four American adults experiences a diagnosable mental health issue within a given year. And if you don’t believe me OR them, well, then you can probably stop reading this blog right now, because it’s based on the premise that mental health issues are a part of daily life for all Americans, even the ones who choose to believe that “crazy” people are someone else’s problem.
People running around acting like a conversation about mental health issues is “for other people” is the number one thing that needs to change.
The second? People who work in health care have a responsibility to treat mental health patients with respect.
I have previously chronicled the experience I had at my local hospital, where I felt that my temporary disability in the throes of what turned out to be a migraine disorder was completely dismissed because in my chart it said “anxiety disorder”. I have a long history with anxiety and the management of what I know to be anxiety symptoms. Ignorance on the part of the health professionals who were dismissing me, led to my being temporarily disabled for two months. I had to drive (chaffeurred, since I could not drive myself) into the big city, find some “real” doctors without prejudice blinders on, and get adequately tested and treated, for a very treatable condition that bore no relation to my existing anxiety symptoms.
Gee, I didn’t mean to get into that again…it’s just that I get so frustrated thinking about it. The reason I bring this up again, is that my grandmother just had a similar experience at the same hospital.
Let’s clear up a few things about my grammy. She’s over 90 years old. She experiences a moderate amount of dementia. However, she was visiting the hospital for a non-mental health-related, and VERY obvious physical issue. There was nothing unreasonable about her seeking treatment for this very obvious physical issue, one which left untreated or improperly treated, could become very serious in any elderly person. My mother was standing behind two nurses who commented to one another, not realizing that she was listening that “this was CLEARLY going to be a ‘mental health’ issue”. My mother gathered that what was intended by that sarcastic and unkind comment was that either they did not find her issue worthy of care, or they were simply inconvenienced by her dementia…an issue that if they had any heart or sensitivity training, they should be able to deal with just fine.
Again, my family chose to jump ship. They were essentially told that until this extremely elderly but otherwise healthy woman was in a life-threatened state, she was not worth treating.
We took her “to the big city” and got confirmation that not only was her situation worth treating, because she is a PERSON, but there was also no need to compromise the health of an otherwise healthy elderly woman with incorrect treatment (of the kind the previous hospital’s staff were insisting be done in the meantime) or by ignoring her condition and allowing it to worsen.
Even a person with a serious mental illness can tell you when something hurts. Even people with mental health issues can express opinions and observations about their health care. These issues do not make them less human, or less worth treating.
In my age group and general peer group, I am not someone who would generally be marginalized due to “mental health” issues. I have the luxury of passing for normal. I also have the delightful luxury of hearing ignorant comments come out of people’s mouths because they don’t know that I’m “one of them”. My grandmother does not have that luxury. Millions of Americans every day don’t have that luxury. After a long, healthy, productive life, my grandmother does not deserve to die from a treatable condition because of other people’s ignorance. And during my recent illness, I found myself on that side of the fence too, thanks to a note in my medical chart…temporarily disabled at the age of 34 because the ignorance of my local medical providers decided that my life was not worth improving…BECAUSE they wrote me off as an “anxiety case”.
I took your ativan and it didn’t help me, because I wasn’t having an anxiety problem. I went to a real hospital and they helped me get better. We took my grandmother to a real hospital to help HER get better. And unless I’m bleeding out of my eyeballs, I’ll never go back to your hospital again.
Now that I’m better, and now that I’m seeing this happening again…you bet your ass I’m going to keep writing about my everyday experiences as a person with mental health issues, who also happens to be a person, and a person who works really hard for positive changes in their community. That this ignorance I write about comes from the medical community makes it even more disgusting and worth addressing.