Last month I published an article here that I wrote for a peer support initiative spearheaded by Melanie Knapp. I like to take pictures so I went to photograph the place that will benefit first from my colleague’s project.
I never noticed before, but it doesn’t appear very welcoming. If in need of attention for physical discomfort I’d head here fast enough. I’d have a reasonable expectation of being received and cared for promptly and solicitously.
But if my discomfiture is in the realm of mental health, I’d have no such expectations. In fact, I know very little of what I might expect from beyond the imposing doors of this institution.
If I meet a friend on the street who has a cast on, I’ll stop and inquire about their well being. They may tell me in embarrassed tones that they foolishly put their limb in harms way. Bones and skin, teeth and nails, even internal organs are all fair game for open conversation. But don’t let your mind fall prey to poor health.
Health care is a black box to many of us. We see the facilities, we know their purpose, we accept that they are there to help. But we know little of how they work.
If there is a chance that they will not be able to help in certain situations we become quieter in our discussions of the current health care machinery. People with cancer or Alzheimer’s are spoken of in more hushed tones than people with maladies that have greater chances of cure or management.
But still, these things are discussed openly. There is stigma there, but it is only a thin veil, still transparent enough for the world to include in everyday conversation.
The mental health care industry is also a black box; it’s the blackest of boxes. The stigma associated with mental illness is so permeating that conversation all but stops. Why? Because no one talks about mental health care, it still suffers the stigma of being voodoo and witchcraft.
It doesn’t help that the industry is not very far removed from the days when restraints, EST, and other abusive practices were used commonly as actual treatment.
And then there is this entrance thing. I’m already suffering from the stigma of knowing that my mental health is a potential source for my own ridicule.
Now I am required to enter a building that has no signage regarding mental health. I’m also required to approach someone I may or may not know (I’m not sure which is worse) and confess that I feel my mind isn’t working right, to get the help I seek.
There ought to be a number I could call. Maybe there is, but if there is, why don’t I know it? It should be posted and plastered on every wall. It should be written in huge, friendly letters. It ought to be embedded in the speed dial of every phone. There should be dedicated phones like taxi companies have. I should be able to ask for help for my mental health at any pharmacy, doctors office, dental office, convenience store and supermarket. When I get my license renewed or pay my property taxes or vote, I ought to have a brief interview with someone who will cheerfully ask how I am … and really mean it.
Okay, that’s a rather utopian ideal. But there’s a lot of ground between what we have and what I’ve outlined. Can’t we move a little farther out of the dark ages? Let’s start with a sign that says “Mental Health Care – Everyone Welcome” right beside the big red EMERGENCY sign. Call it a sign of progress … and it will be.
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Last reviewed: 3 Sep 2012