Mental Health Mentions on Placement – The Pain
Many people on my hospital placement so far have made mentions to Mental Health. The good news is that many doctors and medical staff in general are beginning to appreciate more and more that mental health is a real thing which must be taken seriously. The bad news, however, is that there still is a lot of stigma involved.
As a Medical Student who has suffered from rather severe mental health issues, this can be painful to deal with. It is also difficult to say or do anything when I’m at the bottom of the food chain. Indeed, Medicine does seem to have a huge hierarchy attached to it. We Medical Students who have only just started Clinical Medicine are right at the bottom of the hierarchy. Most of our time is spent being ignored or told to go away when we do want to try to learn something.
But I digress – that’s something for another blog post.
Instead, here are some examples of the types of stuff I have heard about mental health whilst being on my placement.
‘Are they antipsychotics?!’
It was just before we were scheduled to have a teaching session. We were all waiting outside the teaching room when one of our colleagues took out some paracetamol for her sore head.
Just as a joke, one of our other colleagues looked at her and went: “What are you taking? Antipsychotics? I think we should all be careful of her guys!”
Of course, it was meant as a joke. Nothing more than that. The only way in which we all manage to get through the day is by all the banter that we have. However, what he (nor anyone else on the placement around me, for that matter) knew was that there was someone sitting amongst them who had relied heavily upon antipsychotics for a few months. In fact, he still had spare ‘take as you need’ antipsychotics in his bag at that very moment. That person was me.
I wondered how they would all react if I told them that I was on antipsychotics. To my knowledge, no one has ever tried to ‘be careful’ of me out of fear that I may be dangerous. I then thought about how different their attitudes would be towards me if I did tell them that I have been prone to psychosis. The only danger that was there in those situations was towards myself. Absolutely no one else.
So, while they were all laughing, I was sitting there contemplating.
‘Go and take a full history and examination from that nut’
Yep, that word was actually used. I was trying to find patients to practise taking histories on and a registrar sent me to see a schizophrenic patient. Except the patient was called a ‘nut’.
This registrar had already used rather…odd language to talk to me. He had already insinuated that I had no brain for whatever reason, and had already tried to make me look stupid in front of lots of other doctors. Feeling weakened already, I was too afraid to pick up a fight. After all, who would stand up for me in a situation in which I confront him? If anything, knowing these people, they’d just tell me to stay away from their ward.
After seeing the patient, I felt pure anger. I myself was that ‘nut’ not too long ago. Would this registrar use the same word to describe me like that? Of course he would, what was I thinking? He had already belittled me slightly so me revealing that I was a mental health patient would only add to his satisfaction. But then surely that said more about him rather than me?
Then it got me thinking further. When I went to A&E to go and see doctors in my poor mental health state, what would they have referred to me as? Would some of them have talked about me like that behind my back? Would some of them have shaken their head when they found out I was a Medical Student?
But it’s not all bad
It is very easy to become fixated on the negative. This is especially true in cases of poor mental health, where our vision becomes so clouded to the point that we are unable to pull ourselves out. This does not mean, however, that the negative examples should be ignored. Quite the contrary, in fact – we must reflect upon them as a profession to discuss the best way forward.
However, there are also some very good examples of mental health care at my Medical School. I thought I’d just bullet point them here to show that all is not bad. If anything, the majority of cases – in my experience, at least – seem to be rather good.
- An Ethics lecturer talking about the mental health act, but making it crystal clear that most psychiatric patients are NOT dangerous to others. “They are more of a danger to themselves – it is important to be understanding” is what she said.
- The head of our Medical School emailing every one of us to remind us of the importance of mental health and looking after each other who are suffering because of it.
- A consultant who, when teaching us, said: “Never forget to consider the patient’s mental health. It is just as important as physical health.”
- Another consultant who, after overhearing some juniors call a mentally ill patient ‘crazy’ in private, standing up for the patient.
- My old senior tutor reassuring me after I felt like I was making excuses when applying for mitigating circumstances last year. “Why are you feeling like that?” he asked. “You have a genuine illness. I appreciate the stigma and attitude can make it difficult to see sometimes but you are not making excuses at all.”
Let’s hope that the number of examples like this continue to increase.