Health care professionals discriminate against those labeled with mental illness

Yes, this is generally true among mental health professionals as well as health professionals in general. It’s true among psychiatrists and therapists, and social workers too. It’s true among those who are part of the medical model and it’s true of those who are critical of psychiatric drugs as well. Discrimination in mental health professionals runs the entire spectrum of care.

Marvin Ross talks about this in an article on Huffington Post:

Mentioning health care professionals along with discrimination and mental illness is likely surprising for many. It certainly was to me when I first encountered a study called “Community Attitudes Towards People With Schizophrenia.” Conducted in Alberta as part of the World Psychiatric Association’s Global Campaign to Fight Stigma and Discrimination, the results, for the general population were encouraging. Researchers, Dr. Heather Stuart and Dr. Julio Arboleda-Flôrez, found “most respondents were relatively well-informed and progressive in their reported understanding of schizophrenia and its treatment.”

What was concerning was their finding that those who work with the mentally ill were expected to be more tolerant but they were not. The authors stated “these findings support the perceptions of those with schizophrenia that their most stigmatizing experiences occur within the mental health provider community, in which they have their most frequent contacts.” (Page 5 of the study). That was published in 2001 and the situation has not improved. read more

The above is very important because it affects peoples entire well-being. A labeled person won’t get as good care for ANY kind of medical condition. This study is about health care providers in general. People DIE because of this. It’s not even that unusual. Sometimes it’s because complications caused by psychiatric drugs are ignored because the psychiatric patient’s report  is not thought credible. There are layers and layers of ugliness here.

I’ve written about my own experience, as a professional and as a person labeled with a “serious mental illness.” I can attest to the fact that depending on how I choose to identify myself I am treated radically differently.

And if anyone is curious…MENTAL PATIENT beats mental health professional. I lose any credibility of being a professional the minute I mention my psychiatric history among many health care professionals.

I’ve written two pieces on this phenomena which can easily sicken me all over again every time I think of it. It’s a sad, sad, reality. And the fact is if it can be avoided it’s just best not to share your psychiatric status in most instances as it almost guarantees shitty treatment. This is of course all to often not possible. If one is taking psychiatric drugs and seeking medical care most often one needs to say what drugs one is taking, to not do so can be additionally dangerous. It’s tragic when we need help most we often cannot feel safe.

It is possible to learn how to use our “radar” for figuring out who it’s safe to talk to when one has the luxury of deciding whether or not to disclose, but one must learn discernment. This takes time and skill both.

This phenomena of health care providers of all stripes discriminating against those labeled with mental illness must change if we expect people to ever recover. The worst thing someone in mental distress can come up against is this sort of dehumanizing treatment from other human beings who are supposed to be “caring” for us.

If at all possible we must seek out people who will treat us as equals. This is perhaps the biggest reason the peer support movement is gaining such popularity. The next phase for peer workers is equal pay as the other clinicians on the team. Peer support is likely the best support someone in distress can get in many circumstances and yet those giving it are generally also not treated as well as the members of staff with degrees behind their names.

My two articles about my personal experience with this phenomena:

The mental health professional and the patient (wrapped into one).

Stigma alive and well among mental health professionals

When I’ve published about this phenomena in the past quite a few people with a status like mine, both mental health professional and a history of “mental patient,” wrote to me saying they too have found it a tricky and disturbing line they must walk.

I suppose as long as we continue to label people as ill and abnormal due to mental distress this will continue. We create a class of people who aren’t quite like everyone else. The most ridiculous part being that psychiatry is moving towards labeling everyone with the march towards medicalizing normal.

I say all of the above about discrimination against the mentally ill realizing there are good and well-intentioned people everywhere. As labeled people it’s important to remember that in order that we find those who can truly help us heal from our traumatic histories. It is with that faith that the prevailing darkness in the mental illness industry (that also colors the status of labeled people in the rest of society) is shared here today. Without bringing to light the ugliness that is all too common too many of the initially well-intentioned find it more convenient to remain in denial about what goes on under their noses among their colleagues and once they do that they become part of the prevailing darkness themselves.

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