The lives of people with mental health conditions are often plagued by stigma as well as discrimination. People with mental health conditions are often depicted as dangerous, violent, unpredictable, manipulative, fakers, dramatic, or exaggerated. This stigma is a reality for many people living with a mental illness, and it’s one of their greatest barriers to living a complete and satisfying life.
This week, this very stigma prevented me from getting proper medical care.
I went to see a specialist who I had been waiting a VERY long time to see. Her resident came to talk to me first then he went to talk to the Dr privately. She came in and told me that the only possible reasons my thyroid levels could fluctuating is because I’m either not taking my medication regularly or its not being absorbed properly (but she’s “pretty confident that that’s not the issue”).
I TAKE MY MEDICATION EVERYDAY-WITHOUT FAIL!!
…Sometimes an hour or so late…but I never miss it…
Then she tells me we should stop focusing on my symptoms as medical symptoms and start looking at all my other diagnosis’. (Clearly, referring to the mental health piece.) My mom asked, “So you looked at her mental health records and assume that’s all this could possibly be?” To which the Dr bluntly responded, “Yes, that’s exactly what I think.” She repeated over and over and OVER that we should get blister packs (prepackaged scheduled pill containers from the pharmacy). We told her that we put my meds in a pill organizer that is just as effective but cheaper. The Dr insisted we use blister packs because “The pharmacist puts the exact doses of medication in each day.”
Seriously!? You’re saying that you think we are COMPLETELY incapable of putting my meds in the pill container?? And WHY would I purposely take the incorrect dose!? I KNOW how sick I feel when my levels are off! And if we’re not doing it properly then why are the rest of my meds dispensed, absorbed, and working right?? If this is all a mental health problem, why am I doing so well mentally, right now, while my symptoms are so bad?
And to top it all off she told me, “There is absolutely no connection between mental health and thyroid function.” Really!? What about when my depression got really bad in December and January when both times my thyroid was extremely low? Then as soon as my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) went back to normal I was FINE mentally! How do you explain that? Coincidence? Probably not.
What doctors need to realize is that we, as patients, don’t expect them to know everything. We really don’t. However, we do expect them to listen and treat us like intelligent, rational people. Maybe some of us are square and don’t fit into the round holes most doctors see everyday; but that doesn’t mean our symptoms aren’t real.
I also believe that this Dr may not have had any other ideas as to why my thyroid levels are fluctuating and I have all these other symptoms. She may not have an answer…honestly that’s ok.
What is not ok is her treating me like dirt.
It is not ok for her to completely write me off (before she has even met and talked to me!) just because I struggle with mental illness and my symptoms and labs are not textbook.
I am not just “a mentally ill” person. I am not my illness. I have a mental illness, yes. But I am so much more than it. I will not stand to let my mental illness be all that other people, including health care professionals, see.
This stigma is NOT OK!
So, how are we going to change it?
We are going to bring as much awareness to mental health as we possibly can. We are going to shout it from the rooftops! (Too much?)
You, my faithful readers, are all going to tell your neighbours, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, and especially your children, that:
Mental illness is not something to be scared of. It can be scary to go through, certainly, but it is only a chemical imbalance in a persons brain. Make sure you tell them (this is important!) that it is not a personality flaw or character trait!! It is not fake, exaggerated, or dramatic. Tell them that, any type of mental illness can be serious, debilitating, and in some cases the person may even put themselves in dangerous situations (again, remember that this is not for attention-it is a sign that a person is ill and needs some form of treatment). Tell them that mental health problems are VERY common. Try to find a story of someone who has struggled with mental health and have recovered or are recovering. It can be mine, another friends’, a family members’, or anyone’s really. Just share a story of hope.
If you have struggled with anything mental health related I strongly encourage you to share your story with people!
~If you have been open about your struggle, than I am so proud of you! I know just how difficult that can be; the uncertainty of people’s reactions can be utterly terrifying! Please keep sharing your story-make sure to keep it as hopeful as possible!!
~If you haven’t told many people about what you have/are going through, I encourage you to tell at least 2 people-anyone! Start with me if you have to. You will be surprised at how many people will be supportive, how many people will be encouraging, and how many people have their own untold stories that you would never know about otherwise.
~If you are struggling silently, please, please, please, talk to someone! It’s extremely scary to open up to someone about something so personal, especially to a stranger, but it’s so freeing. Through talking to someone you will learn ways to deal with or manage your symptoms, and that is a wonderful feeling.
It will do the world so much good if we all could talk freely about mental health, without talking in hushed tones.
It is crucial that those on the front lines, who may be working with people who have a mental illness, receive the education and support needed to help manage bias. Programs need to be developed to teach health care professionals to identify and manage their biases toward mental illness and the people who have the mental illness, so that it doesn’t interfere with clinical care.
Training more people across the medical field in mental health issues creates the possibility of incorporating mental health screening in primary care settings, promoting early treatment and emphasising the physical component to a mental illness. There also needs to be education about the physical-psychological connection of mental health conditions and physical illnesses.
People most definitely should not be discriminated against because of their mental health conditions whether past or present. And certainly not by so called “health care professionals.” It’s just not ok.
This isn’t the first time I have been discriminated against and I don’t think it will be the last time but this time, I’m not letting it just slip by.
We need change and to get there I need your help! Please do your part to help raise awareness! Time to #GetLoud!
**THIS IS MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS WEEK!! (May 2-8th)** So even more reason to #GetLoud!