I have now been in hospital for the best part of two months. I have seen a lot of patients come and go in that time. I have seen a lot of health care professionals aid these patients with various aspects of their health. There is an obvious and overwhelming gap in the treatment of mental illnesses, versus physical ones. The priority is also always placed on the side of the physical, and never the mental.
I have had first hand experience with this, as I am lucky enough to get frequent nose bleeds. Ironically, they often occur at times when I am distressed or anxious. However, being a physical health issue, a referral was made to an Ear Nose and Throat Surgeon, who came to the ward to assess me, and my leaky beak.
At this point, I feel it would be prudent of me to let you all in on a piece of information quite relevant to this situation. One of my most significant triggers in terms of anxiety and panic, is a doctor with an implement, that s/he wants to poke or prod me with. Particularly sharp ones.
In this instance, I was waiting for the Surgeon, whilst three training doctors quizzed me about every detail regarding my nose; when did it start? How long does it take to stop? Do you have high blood pressure? Do you have allergies? Are you using cocaine?
There was no discussion at all about whether I was comfortable with what was happening. There was no discussion with me about treatment options. There was no real discussion at all. The surgeon simply waltzed in, asked his training team ‘what we were looking at’ (a very anxious me, is the answer to that)… and casually proceeded to stick a burning stick of metal up my nostril and cauterise my ‘wound’.
My eyes watered. My heart raced. My palms became sweaty. My vision blurred.
Unfortunately for me, the procedure was unsuccessful and actually resulted in exacerbating the problem. And so, I was told another round with this oh-so-empathetic doctor was coming my way. Only this time, I would have to go to him, in the Emergency Department.
I am not sure anywhere on this planet makes me as anxious as a hospital Emergency Department. I am on high alert from the moment I set foot in the waiting room. Any and all hospital personnel are now potential threats in my mind. I am trying not to breathe for fear of catching some sort of hideous gastro cross swine flu hybrid. There are so many people. There is so much noise. I can’t sit still. Every single sense is heightened. I am completely overwhelmed and bordering on panic. I feel nauseated and light-headed.
And this is before anyone has even laid a finger on me.
When I am finally ushered through to a treatment room, I am met with the same three audience members, and the surgeon. I am asked to lay down. I am asked to tilt my neck back. I am asked if he can ‘take a look’.
I am not positive, and please, correct me if I am wrong – but I am fairly confident that ‘taking a look’, does not involve a rather large needle being injected into my face. It also does not involve an electric machine burning my skin until I can taste it in the back of my throat. It does not involve being sprayed with anaesthetic.
Regardless… none of these things needed to be done without trying to first manage my other symptoms. I was having a panic attack on the treatment room bed, and it was as if it was invisible; I was shaking. I was hyperventilating. I was groping the edges of the bed so hard my knuckles were an impressive shade of white.
Here I was in hospital for an anxiety disorder, which is clearly documented to be heavily triggered by medical procedures… and yet, this illness had not been considered at all. Managing the situation holistically was not even attempted.
The loud and clear message for me?
My mental health was not taken seriously.
I walked back on my own to the Mental Health Unit. I was in tears. My heart was pounding. I was sweating, and I felt as though I couldn’t breathe.
In this day and age, I feel like this is simply unacceptable. How can you have a Mental Health Unit at a hospital, and yet the illnesses it is treating be considered irrelevant by any treating team member outside its walls? There is so much research. There is so much evidence. Surely the people that we are entrusting with our health and wellbeing should be well-versed and educated on the current thinking in the medical field. It is almost like an intentional ignorance. I whole heartedly agree with Nicole Ricketts, when she suggests that, “With all the information out there, with so many people affected, you not taking this seriously says more about you than me.”
This got me thinking. If mental health isn’t even taken seriously by our health professionals… then how are we expecting that it will be accepted and treated as a legitimate medical condition by anyone else? How many people are having to prove how sick they are? How many suicides could have been prevented? How many lives have we lost simply because someone was too functional to be considered unwell? Health care professional or not, I think it is so important to remember that “not all wounds are visible… we need to walk gently in the lives of others.” – Unknown
I think the term ‘invisible illness’ makes such a powerful statement. Not about the illness. Because today, in that treatment room, there was absolutely nothing invisible about it. No… the term ‘invisible illness’ makes a statement about how mental illness is perceived.
So I challenge you.
Make some noise.
For yourself. For your loved ones. For your friends. For your family.
Don’t accept a world where they are forced to suffer in silence… where they are invisible. No one deserves a prognosis like that.
#makesomenoise #mentalhealthawareness #stopthestigma