On psychiatry and stigma

On psychiatry and stigma
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When parents complain about psychiatrists, it’s often due to them judging the parent as being the reason for child’s problems; one might call this a bad “bedside manner,” but with huge consequences for the family.  If parents aren’t listened to, or are talked down to, they can’t help, nor live with, their incredibly stressful child.  Yet poor customer service is not unique to psychiatry; the medical field has lots of practitioners who aren’t helpful or people-friendly.  What’s different about psychiatry is that The Rest Of The World often thinks it is sinister and evil.

Our Own Worst Enemies
Nada Logan Stotland, MD, MPH

“Oncology manages to cloak the most primitive possible treatments—poison and burning—with elaborate protocols. Yet the mention of psychiatry conjures ECT, and ECT conjures images of the snake pit.  …We are the only specialty with our own dedicated hate group. We shouldn’t be our own worst enemies.”  May 18, 2010, Blog @ www.psychiatrictimes.com

o        Dr. Stotland, above, mentions ECT  (electroconvulsive therapy), or “shock therapy.”  It reboots the brain and is the only thing that keeps some people alive and eases their suffering.  So how is ECT worse than shocking a stopped heart with a defibillator–two paddles on the chest and BOOM!  Which is more barbaric?

o        In the TV medical dramas, there’s this common scene:  a patient is in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors, and the patient is bleeding, or screaming in pain, or convulsing.  Somehow this is acceptable in prime time.  What if the scene was different.  Instead, an agitated, hallucinating patient is being restrained, and injected with a drug that immediately calms and relaxes them.  My guess is the public would find it sickening and unethical.

o        When a sweet-looking child loses all of his or her hair after being poisoned by chemotherapy, it evokes sympathy and compassion.  But if this same  child’s hair was lost while taking a psychiatric medication, then it would be seen as a barbaric side-effect of forcing drugs on children to send them to zombie-land.  Cancer treatment is forgivable,  treatment for brain diseases is not.

This public attitude must change.   It victimizes the victims who live with mental disorders, and their providers and families.   Mental health treatments are no more barbaric than those of other medical illnesses, but the stigma manifest in blame, prejudice, and ignorance of brain function are cruel–can’t people see we are doing the best we can to get help for sick people?  Let the dialogue be about improving lives instead of finding fault with doctors, sufferers, and families.


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