Thursday, January 9, 2020

Mental health: how the medical community shames patients

Blogger's note: Teragram G, who is my "identical cousin" and mirror image in virtually every way, posted this message on her local lab review page. She had something to say about something important.

Something VERY upsetting happened to me the last time I handed in my bloodwork requisition. I have bipolar disorder and am on several medications to treat it. We had to discuss my lithium level, and I happened to mention that I would be gradually weaning off it. The technician looked up at me with a big beaming smile on her face and said, "Ohhh, GOOD!". 

I did not know how to interpret this. Did she mean, "oh, good, you don't have bipolar disorder any more"? Did she mean, "oh, good, you're doing so well now you don't need to take THOSE kinds of drugs"? Almost everyone with bipolar disorder NEEDS to take "those kinds of drugs", and in fact it is what keeps us well. If I said I was coming off heart medication, diabetic medication, or ANY other kind of medication, I very much doubt if it would have prompted a big, pleased, "way to go!" congratulatory smile, as if I had finally graduated, gotten it together and left all that "stuff" behind. 

Diabetics aren't praised for coming off insulin, in fact, it might even be seen as dangerous. But coming off a psych med seems to automatically mean I MUST be doing "better" - in other words, showing no overt signs of my illness. If I AM showing overt signs of my illness, by that logic, I'd get the opposite of praise, perhaps silent or even not-so-silent disapproval. 

By the way, I am only weaning off this very useful drug due to a kidney condition. I would prefer to stay on it for life, but I can't. It has been an upsetting and very difficult process to get off it, with many setbacks. But why this dismaying and insensitive response? Is it because lithium is an inherently stigmatized drug, in that absolutely everyone knows what it is for? 

It has taken me DECADES to accept the fact that I will always be on psychiatric meds, and I still struggle with the reality of it. I don't like to go to the pharmacy and have people comment on how many bottles I have to pay for, and how I could overcome all that stuff with Herbalife if I really tried. When my mental health is misunderstood and undermined by health care professionals who should be helping me (and should know better), it's very distressing, demoralizing, and adds to the stigma everyone claims should be abolished. 

This is why people with mental health issues feel so much shame and don't "reach out for help" as they are always told to do. No one should EVER be praised for going off lithium or going off ANY other kind of drug, particularly psychiatric drugs which people casually make cruel jokes about ("oh, she's off her meds"). Please speak to staff about this, as I walked away feeling like s***. It should never happen to anyone else.