“At least 14 studies have shown that patients with a serious mental illness receive worse medical care than “normal” people. Last year the World Health Organization called the stigma and discrimination endured by people with mental health conditions “a hidden human rights emergency.”
~ Juliann Garey, Aug 10/13 ~
Last week, Kristen from Pride in Madness wrote a post titled When Doctors Discriminate, in which she recounted some of the discrimination she has experienced from medical professionals. It was a post that grabbed me because, over the years, I have been continually shocked and dismayed by the level of discrimination that is shown by people who should know better.
It’s no secret that I’ve had “issues” with various mental health services over the years; “issues” that have caused me to foster a massive distrust of the industry and stopped me from seeking professional support.
What follows are just some of the discriminatory incidents that I’ve experienced from medical professionals:
- On the 11th October 2007 I attempted suicide. Whilst lost in a delusional state I hiked nearly 50km without food or water from the Melbourne CBD to the Dandenong Rainforest because I believed that if I hung myself there I would save the universe from an apocalyptic event. Whilst I was doing this the police had begun to investigate me as a missing person. When they eventually located me they took me to a major Melbourne hospital in the back of a divvy van and refused to leave me on my own until the hospital staff had taken charge. Fully expecting to be hospitalized – given my mental state and obvious signs of bruising on my neck – I was stunned when the psychiatrist gave me three anti-depressants (no blister pack, just three white pills) and told me to go home because, in his words, “I would be fine”. I wasn’t.
- Not long after this suicide attempt, I presented to the same hospital after a vicious act of self-harm. Whilst cleaning my wounds they treated me like I was a “naughty little boy” (I was 28) who should “know better”. I was then sent home with no follow-up from a psychiatrist.
- In January 2008, whilst living homeless in Melbourne, I managed to get myself to a local Mental Health Service after a nasty period of self-harm. In floods of tears I was begging them to hospitalize me as I was terrified I would shortly attempt to take my own life. They refused to help me, informing me that they could only help people who were “a danger to other people, not themselves”, so sent me back to the park in which I was living. Less than twenty-four hours later I attempted suicide.
- Whilst I was homeless, I was refused help from an NGO because I would not admit to being a drug addict. I wasn’t a drug addict, but they believed because I was homeless, and suffering from mental illness, I had to be a drug addict. Needless to say I was turned away and told to come back when I was willing to admit to my (non-existent) problems.
- In late 2011 I went to see a psychiatrist to have my recently prescribed levels of lithium checked. I had been taking the drug for a couple of months after it had been prescribed by a different psychiatrist within the same organisation. In less than one hour, this new “psychiatrist” informed me that as a twelve-year old boy “I should have understand the complexities of my sister’s mental illness” and that “it was my fault I had allowed her illness to affect me the way it had”. He told me that “I did not deserve to have children”, that “there was no such thing as multiple diagnosis of mental illness”, that “there was no medication that could help me” and that “I was playacting mental illness in order to escape homelessness”. He immediately stopped my lithium dosage and, after reducing me to a trembling, shaking, crying mess, sent me on my way. I’ve refused to have any contact with psychiatrists or mental health services since this incident.
I strongly urge all of you to read Kristen’s original post and share your own stories of discrimination from medical professionals as, like her, I believe these are stories that need to be told.