[Facebook comment [[9.10.14]] prompted by this story: Don’t coerce the mentally ill into treatment]
The Mental Health Movement has made progress, but there’s so much further to go. I have a mental illness and I have rights. The same Bill of Rights apply equally to all of us. Patient rights, well, I didn’t realize I had power over my mental health care decisions until educated by the staff at Stanford upon admittance last September. They have a lovely sign in the hall that outlines patient rights for individuals in mental health facilities.
When having some human-conflict struggles in the past, my fear was anyone could take me and coerce me into their plan of action regardless of my choices. I felt powerless. Everyone else’s opinion about my treatment mattered more than my own. It was socially accepted that their actions and words weighed more than mine because, of course, I had a mental illness. Worse was when a “welfare check” was called in and I was greeted by a group of police officers, closest one hand on hip holster, to ask me when I was born, who the president was and so on. I didn’t qualify for a 5150 and they left, but seriously folks, I have PTSD. How in the hell would that not trigger me? The average mind would sweat being greeted like that. The officers were carrying out their job, I know, but it made me feel criminal for having a mental diagnosis. The stigma is the mentally ill are violent. Yes, there are absolutely severe cases, but for most of us, the likelihood of being abused, hurt, coerced and mistreated is far, far greater. Remember, 1 in 4 have a mental illness.
I’m still not sure why typical folks think going to the behavioral ward locally is a miracle worker. I call it the Band-Aid Place. It’ll patch you up, but it’s not going to fix you beyond the immediate emergency. (And yes, I’ve needed it for just that a few years ago. It does have merit for those few days.) Beyond that, here in the Valley, it feels like the Hinterlands. There are incredible people here working hard for better quality everything in mental health. Many work diligently in an area that doesn’t get much respect, even by peers in physical health and insurance companies. The stigma is still so strong it stinks. After I utilized the Band-Aid place, I went to my primary doctor to patch me through on my prescriptions given to me from the hospital until my next psychiatrist appointment (soonest available was a month out).
“Why do you need these drugs?” he asked.
“They were prescribed to me at the behavioral ward,” I answered.
“Why were you there?”
“Suicide ideation.” He gave me a look I can only describe as disgust. “You know, it’s been a rough couple of years,” I said, thinking he might be able to understand.
“Well, it’s better than kicking dirt.” He signed the prescriptions and left the room. That was the last I saw him. Couldn’t face him again, much less trust him as my doctor. This guy was my primary for almost a decade, knew me before I triggered, and was the first to try and treat my disintegration.
It was roughly another 18-months before I was referred to Stanford by my new doctor. There, I was on the neurology floor for about a week and then accepted the invitation to be treated in the psychiatric ward. Yes, I said invited. I was asked and given the choice. I was treated with respect. All my questions answered, fears addressed and the decision ultimately mine. For the first time I felt the power of having a voice over my mental health care. Until then I didn’t realize I could participate, approve or disapprove various approaches just like I could in physical health care.
We have an incredible and long journey ahead to understanding mental health and breaking stigmas. That the spotlight is shining on the subject and folks are trying to understand the challenges and looking for solutions is awesome. Just don’t forget to include those of us with mental illness. Our voices matter and our understanding of the subject intimate. Help us advocate for ourselves while you advocate for us. Take time to understand the answers you think are available and proper are most likely flawed in practice. And when those answers don’t work, people like me often take the heat, personally and in public opinion, for not being “healed.” Know that often we’re berated for taking meds and then judged for not taking meds. We’re judged for needing help and then judged for getting help. Often the help isn’t at the appropriate level, or not available at all, and then we’re blamed for not getting better and being a detriment to society. And, oddly, it feels like often we’re held to a higher standard of behavior in order to be “normal.”
Please keep the discussion going. It’s communication that leads to understanding, but true solutions need the input and advocacy from folks like me. Those of us with mental illness may not have answers, but we understand the problems we face. Coercion is not the solution, but inclusion could lead us to one.