A Plea to Doctors and Patients

ErinThe Mental Health System

I just turned off a rerun of House on tv and it got me thinking about the dramas we watch on tv, especially the medical dramas. Why do we watch these shows?

The storylines are interesting, love between characters ups the ante, but every episode of medical dramas tend to include a stranger being helped. This stranger goes to the hospital after being in an accident or having alarming symptoms that something is wrong with their body and they turn to medical professionals for relief. That happens in the “real world” every day, right?

The difference between tv doctors and real doctors is pretty vast. Obviously, actors on tv aren’t real doctors, and the whole thing is about drama and not science so the medical side is also a crock. The biggest difference that I see, however, is exactly what draws us to the shows in the first place: the doctors on tv care. They care because they are human beings.

Wait, what was that? Real doctors are human beings, too?

One could argue that all real doctors care or else they wouldn’t have gone into the medical field. So why do we rarely see or feel that care? Especially in the ER, a place people visit only in an emergency, why do doctors “treat ’em and street ’em” as fast as possible?

Unfortunately the reasons behind the quick, seemingly heartless attitudes of medical staff are tenfold. Hospitals are understaffed so doctors and nurses are overworked. The pay isn’t good enough and the rest between shifts is inadequate. There are impatient inpatients, rude visitors and ignorant people who waste the staff’s time with non-crucial matters.

It isn’t breaking news that our health care system is fractured here in Ontario, Canada. It really does suck. We are very fortunate to have our healthcare costs covered by the government here, but the downsides to that get in the way of feeling better fast. In addition to the problems mentioned above, the wait lists in Canada are atrocious. More and more, local newspapers that I read talk of frustrated Canadians crossing the border to the US, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars out of their pockets, just to receive the care they need to get on with their life.

A broken system such as ours can’t be fixed overnight, but I do have a plea out there to medical staff that treat the mentally ill. Whether you are a psychiatrist with years of study that make you an expert on mental illnesses or a basic ER doctor that treats the wounds of a self-harmer, remember that the lives of your patients are at stake. Not just their physical lives, but their emotional lives. A common emotion that affects many of the mentally ill is hopelessness. Sometimes hopelessness is part of the disease, as with depression, or it is a by-product of dealing with an illness that is hard to treat and even harder to live with. Treat the hopeless of heart with more compassion than most.

In my personal experience, the ER staff’s ignorance around mental health matters is pretty consistent. As for psychiatrists, especially those working in a hospital environment, many are cocky and self-righteous. Most psychiatrists I’ve dealt with are so confident in their years and years of study that they forget that patients are the experts of their own illnesses. They know their symptoms and their quality of life, and they are coming to you for help, not patronizing.

As angry as this post is turning out to be, I want to end with a positive note: THERE ARE GOOD DOCTORS OUT THERE.

Yes, good doctors exist and we, as a mental health patients, deserve to be treated with respect, reassurance, and optimism. If we don’t experience those qualities in the doctor or nurse or counselor that is treating us, we need to demand better treatment. We might not always get that treatment, but if we don’t ask for something better we will never get it. Trying means using your voice and when that voice is ignored, contact the patients’ representative in the hospital. If it isn’t a hospital setting and you are out in the community, don’t keep seeing a doctor that treats you like crap. Ask your mom and dad to help you find a different doctor, or take that extra twenty-minute drive out of your way to try someone new.

My lack of self-esteem has resulted in me taking too much crap from disrespective people in all areas of my life. By passing this advice on to you I am hoping to reinforce such beliefs in myself. We are worth the effort it takes to have the best mental health treatment possible and when we forget that, we need to remind each other of what’s at stake: everything. We are worth it!

ErinA Plea to Doctors and Patients