Stigma in the mental health industry

suspiciousAs I mentioned in my previous post, my DBT class was not handled well. The more I thought about the money I wasted, the more determined I became to do something about the situation (various readers suggested I request a refund, which I was considering). The billing department informed me that they didn’t have the authority to give refunds or credits, and transferred me to the director of the facility. The director of the facility was a condescending pompous ass. He spoke to me like the mentally ill person he assumed I was, and his answer was “You attended the sessions, therefore you have to pay for them.” My attempts at explaining that had I been forewarned that I would not be learning anything I would not have attended, were then met with an ever-increasing slowed speech (as if I couldn’t understand) with an explanation of what was supposed to take place during the first two classes. “Yes,” I replied. “That is exactly what I expected, but not what I received. I did not sign up for this class to pay for other people’s therapy sessions.” After going around and around with both of us repeating the same thing, he finally said “I have no authority over Billing.” “Gee, that’s odd, Billing is the department that sent me to you.” There was more of his calm-down-crazy-lady bullshit, when I finally said “This is unacceptable, I’ll file a Client’s Rights Grievance,” and hung up on him. I was not in need of calming down, I was speaking in a coherent, intelligent, and calm manner.

I have encountered this type of treatment before from both mental and physical health professionals. Because I receive treatment for a mental illness, it is assumed that I am either unintelligent, unreasonable, or a drug addict. Years ago, when I first started having problems with my back, I had to go to the emergency room three days in a row before I finally received the care I needed from a competent and compassionate physician. Since a ruptured disc (which is what I finally discovered I had) does not show up on an x-ray, I was told to go home that they weren’t going to simply prescribe pain medication to every person who claimed they were in pain. Unfortunately, when I was filling out the initial forms, I was honest about my hospitalizations. Thus revealing that I had been in-patient in a psychiatric hospital. It was therefore assumed that I was a drug addict, and not really in pain. I was dragging my leg, crying from pain, and not wanting pills only wanting answers. The third doctor ended up ordering an immediate MRI, which then resulted in emergency surgery the following day. At that time I was still too cowed by physicians to file a complaint.

During one in-patient stay, I was overhead to say “I’m afraid to go home tomorrow.” Taken out of context, it was assumed that I was a danger to myself and there appeared before me two large orderlies demanding my shoelaces and wanting to escort me to a 72-hour hold. Fortunately, I was able to get hold of my psychiatrist who set them straight. The discussion was originally about the fact that my husband had become even more abusive than he had been in the past. If someone would have taken the time to ask why I was afraid, that unpleasant situation could have been avoided.

Sadly, this type of treatment is not unusual. We that fight against stigma need to address it in both the lay community as well as the health community. Do the universities need to offer classes in compassion, or avoiding stereotyping patients? Or does this already exist and it does no good? I don’t have answers, but I do know something must be done.

Tagged: healthcare, mental illness, stigma

Comments are closed.