Dear Emergency Room:
I am writing to inform you that people with mental illness are tired and angry. We are tired of entering your doors with urgent needs only to be passed off as faking, attention seeking, or nuisances. We are tired of your changed attitude toward us once our chart arrives. In that instant, we experience a shift from "real" patient to "borderline, schizo, or depressed" malingerer, with all the negative attitudes which accompany such a label.
We are tired, ER--may I call you, ER? We are tired of the disdainful whispers outside our cubicles. We are tired of the suspicious nature of your questioning. We are tired of the knowing glances and rolling eyes. Do you think we cannot feel this callousness? We'd have to be real idiots not to notice. But that's the intention, isn't it? You think treating us this way will deter us from coming again.
You're right. It has. It does. Are you okay with that? How many overdoses, drunken accidents, or suicides would have been avoided if you'd treated us with compassion rather than disdain? Of course, we'll never know the answer to that. But we can tell you, ER, our suffering is typically increased, not decreased, once we exit your doors.
ER, you may think this is not true, that we are treated differently, but I can tell you from multiple experiences, it is true. From the moment our 'past medical history' is viewed, we are treated very differently. Just the other day, a woman approached me, "You know," she said. "I haven't always had a mental illness, but because of my physical disability, I've been to the ER a lot. I noticed," she continued, "after I was diagnosed with depression, I got treated totally differently in the ER--even though I was there for my other, physical disability! Can you believe that," she asked? I could only nod, ER. I've experienced the same thing.
I think the problem is likely worse than that to which this woman attests. I'm willing to bet those of us with mental illness are not only treated more rudely--yes, in some cases, we've been treated downright rudely. I'm willing to bet we also have fewer face-to-face provider minutes, receive fewer diagnostic tests, have positive diagnostic tests read as negative more frequently, and get discharged without so much as an aspirin far more often than those without an MI diagnosis. Has anyone ever looked at that, ER? I'd certainly love to. Maybe I'm wrong. I'd be happy to be proven so. Unfortunately, ER, experience tells me I am all too correct.
I'm sorry if this feels confrontational, ER. I hope defensiveness doesn't entirely close your ears. Someone needed to stand up. Since I haven't been to see you in awhile, I felt I should be the one. You see, ER, that's another problem. We know we've been dismissed. You know we've been dismissed, but if we spoke up while we were visiting, it only reinforced your beliefs. If we questioned, complained, or simply asked for what we needed in your presence, it only fueled your disdain and suspicion--further proof that we were not "real," rather we were nuisance patients. The word seemed to go out, "See, I told you so," and our experiences only worsened.
It's frustrating, ER, to be treated with stigma and stereotype by an institution which is supposed to know better. What can we do about this, ER? We need to change this situation. It doesn't do any good to bring experiences to light if no discussion ensues. Perhaps some staff education would help. Perhaps some real-life stories from those of us without an ax to grind--those of us who only want the situation reversed for the better of all. We can listen to you. You can listen to us. Wherever, whenever you wish to meet, ER, I'll be there. I'll bring others for an open, respectful dialogue. I pray for all who've yet to grace your doors, ER, we can effect change. Please consider our offer.
Depression Marathon Blog
- Diagnosed with depression 16 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Dear Emergency Room: