Altering Perspectives on Psychiatric Patients
I finished my psych rotation this past weekend, and in a few days I'll be rolling right into pediatrics. I'm excited to work with kids, and my experiences there will undoubtedly be the focus of my next several blog updates. However, this week, I'd like to offer some final thoughts on mental health care.
There's a perception out there that every patient in a psychiatric unit is severely and theatrically mentally ill. When I tell people I'm doing clinical hours on a psych unit, they instantly jump to conclusions, assuming I'm doing time in some sort of madhouse where every patient is violently delusional, hearing voices, proclaiming grandiose imaginings, enacting multiple personalities, or, at the very least, manically bouncing off the walls.
I'm not going to deny the possibility for some of that, but it's far from the whole picture. The truth is that psych units include many people who would seem totally normal and adjusted in most situations, just as much as you, me, and our loved ones. These people find themselves on psych units for a variety of reasons (anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorder, suicide attempt, etc.), but their mere presence doesn't make them crazy. All it means is that they they need some help dealing with emotional and/or psychological issues.
You don't have to be a genius to realize there's a stigma surrounding psychiatric care. Most people see mental illness as a character weakness of some kind, but the fact is that psych issues often have a genetic or biochemical basis. Psych issues are very real and the people experiencing them shouldn't be treated as societal pariahs just because they have a bum amygdala or don't use serotonin properly.
In the end, looking down on someone for having an anxiety disorder or crippling depression is just as unfair as judging people for having type 1 diabetes or a heart defect. These are important distinctions, and I think it's our duty as health care professionals to advocate for psychiatric patients and facilitate better understanding of mental health.