It drives me mad

When you go and visit a health professional, there are certain things you look for in your interactions with that person.

You want them to be demonstrably more intelligent than you, to prove that the seven plus years they have spent in training have not just been spent down the Union Bar floating formaldehyde soaked eyeballs in pints of lager for ‘a laugh’.

That said, it would be nice if they could explain stuff to you in layman’s terms, so that you don’t leave the surgery more confused than when you went in.

It would also help if they didn’t patronise you by dismissing any information about yourself as not relevant, or telling you not to Google things, as if you were a naughty toddler caught with your hand in the sweetie jar.

You want them to have a certain gravitas, so that when you tell them about your suspected piles, they do not hoot with laughter and make Finbar Saunders style double entendres, or put your photo on Twitter.

You want them to be sympathetic so that when you burst into tears at their desk because you haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in three years and you are exhausted beyond reason and suffering from mild PTSD, they don’t just tell you to pull yourself together and stop snivelling: ‘You volunteered for childbirth, after all.’

You want them to help you by coming up with some kind of diagnosis, or solution or test that will help you find a diagnosis or solution, rather than shrugging, waving their hands in the air in the international language of cluelessness and telling you it’s probably ‘viral’.

This list might seem long, but it isn’t very difficult to achieve and it is eminently practical. If you’re like me, you go to the Dr. only when forced, and only when you feel you really have no other option.  This means you are generally reasonably ill and/or upset when you are there, and the last thing you want is someone who terrifies the life out of you, either because they seem very stupid in charge of a prescription pad, or utterly uninterested in you and in charge of a prescription pad.

I would say that my experience with health professionals of all types has been patchy at best. I have had some stupendously good health care, in the interests of fairness. I have had some abysmally bad health care. One of the reasons I find going to see a health worker of any kind so very stressful is that I can never predict what sort of treatment I’m going to get, so I can never entirely relax my guard.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a dear friend of mine posted her experience on Facebook.

She has been through the wringer in recent years, and has finally been diagnosed with Bipolar after suffering a nervous breakdown in 2007 and having gone through some extremely dark times since then. She is incredibly brave in that she speaks out about her condition, she actively works at getting well, both with health professionals and by doing what she can for herself in terms of diet, lifestyle, exercise etc.

Mental health recovery is not a straight line on a graph. Some days are better than others, some weeks are better than others. The difficult bit is accepting where it isn’t working, and being brave enough to speak out, tweak meds, adjust your life style, pick yourself up and start again, even though you sometimes feel that it is the hardest thing in the world.

This is what my friend does. She has my entire admiration for her persistence in the face of something so dark that she has, at times, wanted to end her own life.

If anyone deserves support from the health system it is her.

Yesterday she had to go and see someone about her health, not her GP, not a psychiatrist or counsellor, but still a senior health care professional. A senior health care professional who suggested to her in all seriousness, that the fact that she does not shave her legs means that she ‘has let herself go’, that ‘she has no dignity’, and that somehow that the hairiness or otherwise of her legs has an impact on her mental health.

This would be funny if it were not so very, very sad.

This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that 25 years ago when I had my breakdown my health care professional suggested to me that to get myself well I really needed to; ‘get out there and play rugby and drink more beer.’

Have we really come no further than this in people’s ability to understand mental health?

I suppose I should be grateful that my Dr. did not suggest netball, a small glass of sweet sherry and embroidery classes.

I need not point out the outrageous sexism in the leg hair comment, or ask whether a health care professional would ever utter anything so deluded to a man in a similar situation:

‘Do you think the fact that your beard resembles that of Mr. Twit, means that you are letting yourself go, and not helping yourself in terms of achieving full mental health?’

How can we trust people like this to take care of our sanity? How?

4 responses to “It drives me mad

  1. My 9 year old daughter has been suffering from OCD and Generalised Anxiety Disorder for the last 3 years. Last year she got so bad she needed to be medicated. And by so bad I mean she refused to eat food or drink because she thought people were trying to poison her, she didn’t sleep more than 2/3 hrs a night, she weighed 26 kilograms, she constantly thought she was dying and the day before she was seen by a senior psychiatrist, she sat on her bed and told me that we would all be happier if she died because she made our lives so bad. Thankfully she had/still is seeing an amazing child psychologist who saw that the therapy alone wasn’t enough and she needed extra help. My GP, who is nothing short of brilliant got on the phone and refused to get off until an appointment had been made for my daughter the next day, when the waiting list was 8 weeks. If I had had someone tell me that she just needed to play some sport or ‘find a hobby’, I’d be reading your blog from jail. In this day and age with so many people, young and old, suffering from mental illness, I CANNOT fathom how some medical professionals can be so utterly stupid and ignorant. I feel for your friend for being treated that way, and I hope she put in a complaint.

  2. I am a mental health social worker and am appalled by your friend s experience , she should complain, do you have a local recovery college , her journey to recovery is being helped by caring and an understanding friend x x

  3. I am a registered nurse and have worked most of my 20 year career in the mental health field. It never fails to amaze me when I hear a story like this. But then I realize that just because someone can study and pass medical school doesn’t mean they have good sense. The second thing I remember is that doctors are human, not gods, and they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us. And the third thing I remember is that we must never give up trying to educate the public about mental illness. For the sake of people like your friend, and because it is part of sustaining our planet, by sustaining each other, ALL of us.

    Excellent post, and I admire your friend for sticking it out. we need to continue this discussion and other blogs like this, to reduce to ignorance in the world about mental illness. And colleges should spend more time training doctors and nurses in how to be active, nonjudgmental listeners. Communication skills go a long way when you don’t understand mental illness.

    Great post, and tell your friend to never give up!

  4. This has made me incandescent with anger – not only because your friend has this idiot adding to her difficulties, but also because it comes as no surprise that certain medical professionals have no compassion at all. This should be the exception rather than the rule. A few months ago when I saw my GP about something she obviously regarded as trivial, but which I was worried about, she said ‘oh, bless’. That and a condescending smirk was the extent of her diagnosis.

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