The mental health patient is the forgotten patient…Let’s talk mental illness, does it make you feel uncomfortable? Does it worry you that speaking about it may lead people to believe you suffer from it and if so why? After posting a tweet on Schizophrenia I noted a distinct lack of retweeting on what was a touching and well needed piece by the NYT on breaking the stigma attached to this condition. I of course, as is my way, decided to investigate this further by interviewing a clinical psychologist working in specialist services.
The first thing a psychologist will investigate is the person, this immediately differentiates their illness from the being as you would with someone with a cold or say cancer. I was also informed that the word illness is not appropriate to describe a persons difficulties in the world of psychology. The word difficulties is used in preference to labels in what tend to be extremely complex deficits or difficulties in life.
Our role, stated the psychologist, is to approach the patient as the expert. They are experts in their own life and we want to learn from them about their life and situation. Our role is to share knowledge in an attempt to help the patient, to normalise any difficulties being experienced and to of course improve their quality of life. When asked how they felt their patients were viewed by society the timbre of conversation changes to a more exasperated stance. ‘People are scared, it’s as simple as that’ ‘People want to keep it as us and them’, ‘the people that can handle life and the people who are weak, this is base prejudice and not acceptable’ And from experience prejudice always stems from fear.
The psychologist also went onto the recent findings of ADHD being linked to genes, ‘society wants a biological basis to mental deficits, the ADHD gene was also found in 8% of children without the condition and the number of children with ADHD found with the gene was so small as to be discounted’ This fact has also been commented on by Ben Goldacre in The Guardian. My interviewee also went onto say that this need for a biological basis was society’s way of ensuring that it will never happen to them, as people view mental deficit as a weakness, ‘people don’t want therapy or to be depressed, they see it as a slight on their character. It’s like saying you are lesser than other people and you can’t cope’
They then went onto say that any one of us can have a developmental illness in their lifetime, these mental episodes or deficits are just exaggerations of emotion and cognition i.e. paranoia, everyone get’s paranoid at some point in their life, everyone has been suspicious of others. Everyone has someone in their family with a mental health issue from depression to psychosis so isn’t time to demystify mental health. Psychologists as a whole cannot understand why people are happy to spend money on their physical health but when it comes to their emotional well-being are unlikely to go to GP’s for feeling anxious or say anti social. Why is that when some mental health issues if left can affect everyday life and lead to long spells off work just as if you have a serious muscular or physical condition. Very interesting questions that if not dispelled will lead to lack of understanding and mis prescribing for overlooked mental deficits.
I asked what happens when someone goes to a GP with an emotional problem and in the next post we will discuss what psychologists feel should be done at the first phase of mental care in the community. The suggestions may not be what you think……
Michelle is a health industry veteran who taught and worked in the field before training as a science journalist.
Featured by numerous prestigious brands and publishers, she specializes in clinical trial innovation--expertise she gained while working in multiple positions within the private sector, the NHS, and Oxford University.