Unfortunately, there is so much stigma and lack of understanding within the medical profession surrounding mental illness. There have been some improvements over the last few years from my experience, but not enough by far. It’s something that really has to change.
It’s hard enough to reach out for help
We need to be able to trust the professionals we go for help. It’s hard enough to reach out for help, especially when you are going through one of the most difficult times in your life: to be faced with stigma or turned away and not given the help that you need can be incredibly damaging, potentially even fatal. We need to be able to trust that when we pluck up the courage to reach out for help, and our doctors are our first point of call, that we will be met with understanding and compassion, and that they will help us to get the help that we need. If they are not able to provide it, then signposting us or referring us to services that will actively be able to assist us with our mental illness is essential.
Our symptoms are valid and should be treated as such
At the beginning of my journey when I first reached out to doctors for help with my symptoms, I was met with a patronising attitude, disbelief and was ultimately brushed away as an annoyance. I’ve had doctors ask me if I’m on drugs, and then when I told them that I’ve never taken illegal drugs in my life, sigh at me and ask again ‘are you sure?’. The same doctor asked that every time I went to see them, as if I was just a liar and couldn’t possibly be having these symptoms unless I was high on something.
I’ve literally had a doctor ask me if I’ve been seeing ‘purple people’ and when I asked them what they meant they said ‘oh you know, those hallucination things’. The lack of education absolutely astounded me, even at a young age. I’ve also had them tell me that I’m ‘just a bit depressed’. Just a touch of depression, what an interesting outlook on mental illness. I’ve also had the experience, as I’m sure a lot of you have, that when going in to see the doctor for a physical health problem after seeing them for mental health issues, then having it related it back to my mental health – ‘oh it must be caused by this depression or this anxiety’.
Misinformation from doctors can be very damaging
Later in life when I was going through the first mentions of bipolar disorder, I saw a doctor to talk about medication and was told that the medication for bipolar disorder is the same as for the mild depression that I had previously been treated for. It’s scary the damage they could do with this misinformation, actively guiding vulnerable patients in the wrong direction. Many times for me, it was highly damaging and not just mentally.
There are great doctors out there
I want to state that I have come across doctors who have been very kind, and who have truly helped me to get the treatment that I need. Not all doctors lack compassion or understanding on these matters, some are truly wonderful and I would never tar them all with the same brush. I think it’s important to mention how grateful I am for the wonderful care that I have received thanks to some doctors who have really been there for me and stepped up, but all doctors should behave and treat patients in this positive way. It shouldn’t be a hit or miss, ‘let’s hope we get an understanding one’ experience when you go to a doctor’s surgery.
Lack of education and stigma is not acceptable
Doctors are our first point of call for getting help for any health problems and need to be more educated and trained on mental health so they can understand where we are coming from, so they can give effective advice and really, so they can just be kind and understanding. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
Continuing on this theme, my next blog post will be about the stigma in emergency services and hospitals.