Ignorance, M.D.

This particular post/rant has been building up over the past months. But in reality, it’s a problem that has always been there. And unless something changes soon, we’ll be dealing with this problem for quite some time.

When it comes to mental health, the first step toward finding peace and healing is admitting you have a problem and seeking help. Those things themselves are very difficult. Especially for people who aren’t usually keen on having outside forces affecting their minds and just don’t like asking others for help. With the stigma around mental illness, asking for help can feel like a sign of weakness rather than a badge of honor. Which is why so many remain silent.

I, on the other hand, had no choice but to look beyond my own efforts for some support. When mental illness itself is so isolating, sometimes our last instinct is to think of opening up to others about it, especially to those who might not understand. We shouldn’t have to defend ourselves that no, we aren’t crazy. These feelings we’re enduring are valid. And they deserve recognition.

But when resources are low, the first place we go to for professional health guidance is the local hospital or clinic. Seems very straightforward and logical. The place we go to for other maladies should also help us with mental equivalents, right? Wrong. The stigma present throughout many areas of society regarding mental illness is very present in the medical field.

My family has experienced not one, but two particular instances where the doctors we turn to for relieving ailments pretty much disregarded any help for mental illness. For me, I went in to the clinic at my very worst in my eating disorder. I was at the lowest weight I have ever been. It was a time that my heartbeat pounded in my ears at night, if I could even fall asleep, and any flight of stairs felt like a heart attack waiting to happen. I was still hesitant about admitting my problem, but by my physical appearance, it was quite obvious I was not well. But they didn’t do anything for me. They didn’t even try. They later called my house to ask if my physical state was due to “low electrolytes.” Luckily I had my family’s support in finding a resource to actually find treatment, but I ended up turning to counselors in my college town instead.

Or how about medical professionals telling you to lie about your mental state? Yup, it’s happened. After prescribing an anti-depressant, a local doctor told another family member to call in sick for a couple days, telling her employer she has the stomach flu. Basically invalidating depression as an illness. If doctors tell their own patients to avoid mentioning mental illness, how is anybody supposed to break a stigma? Professionals should be the ones combating this mentality, not perpetuating it. A doctor’s recommendation should never be to hide and openly lie about your health.

As such big influences in the health industry and society in general, doctors don’t spend years in higher education to turn patients away without any help whatsoever, or suggestions to cover up symptoms of mental illness. I’m not a big fan of going to the doctor to begin with, but the actions I’ve seen and experienced turn me even farther away. I shouldn’t have to feel like I’m alone in getting the help I need, making the process even harder.

I don’t want to bash all doctors here. My one here at college has been very helpful as I’ve began taking anti-depressants. I respect those professionals willing to be open and communicative when it comes to helping me. But the medical profession as a whole has the responsibility to openly recognize mental illness. Otherwise, how is anybody else supposed to live and deal with it publicly? Mental illness is just as, if not even more so, important as physical illness. Compared to physical maladies, mental disorders are often much harder to diagnose and treat. This is where we need the help of doctors comes in, so if we’re experiencing symptoms that may require either therapy or medication, professionals can lead us in the right direction.

Counselors are a great start for talking, but they can’t prescribe anything. They can’t give us the true medical perspective that is necessary in understanding an illness. That’s not their jobs. It’s time for all doctors and medical professionals to fill this role that we need. Fighting the stigma is a collective effort. If entire fields of study aren’t on board, we’ll never get anywhere. Heck, we might even go backwards. We need doctors recommending how to best treat and respond to our problems. Ignoring and lying about it isn’t the answer. And they wonder why we suffer in silence, too ashamed or scared to do anything knowing that professionals might invalidate us.

Ignorance is fuel for the fire that is mental health stigma. It’s time to start patting down the flames. Certain areas of society have made significant progress, but an important area that needs to catch up is the medical profession. No, it doesn’t require putting on a cast or suppressing a cough. It’s an internal battlefield that doesn’t need extra bombs raining down on to make the fight that much harder.

Got to love metaphors. Anything to illustrate an issue that can easily transition from silent to deadly. And if it convinces anybody to start drawing attention to the medical field’s connection to mental health stigma, it’ll make it that much better.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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