The Professional Opinion
Everyone loves a trip to the doctor. It’s the one place where you can guarantee you’ll get that paradoxical excitement and anxiety mixed together. The potential for bad news, yet the possibility for answers can be a volatile cocktail for mental health sufferers. Unfortunately it’s something that we need, though. The “professional opinion”, as it were.
Going to the doctor is one thing that I hate. While sitting in the waiting room, I can always feel my anxiety starting to spike and my mood starting to spiral. Not knowing what the doctor will say, whether it’ll be anything good, is always something that plays on my mind. Needless to say, it’s not conducive for my mental state, wondering what he or she will say. You always expect the worst.
But when the worst actually happens…that puts another spin on it entirely…
At the Doctor’s Surgery
Recently, I took a trip to the doctor with my friend ‘Louise’. Currently she has been going through a rough patch in a relationship, separating from her partner of quite a few years, taking her kids with her and having the uncertainty of what comes next. It should come as no surprise, reading that, to hear that her mental health has taken a knock. Without putting too fine a point on it, she has depression and, like me, she self-harms as a coping mechanism. Needless to say, it was for that reason that we took a trip to see the doctor.
When she came out of the appointment, I could immediately tell that something wasn’t right. Her face was pale and her lips tight, she refused to make any eye contact and she barely spoke. Four sure signs that her depression was running riot. I gave her a little bit of time before broaching the subject with her to see exactly what had transpired in the appointment. What she told me, in all honesty, shocked me.
In a nutshell, the doctor had listened as she explained her separation and the issues surrounding that. She had then asked the routine question of any thoughts of self-harm or suicide, to which my friend replied she was currently self-harming. The doctor had then asked whether she intended to do it again. That was where it got messy…
If you’ve read my series concerning self-harm, you’ll know that it’s used as a release and a coping mechanism. When stuck with those thoughts, it’s not necessarily something that you can control. There are times when you simply cannot stop yourself. So my friend answered completely honestly that she might not, she couldn’t promise.
At which point the doctor threatened – yes, I said threatened – her with being admitted to hospital if she would not promise that she would not self-harm again. When concerns about the children were raised, the next thing the doctor said was that she would get social services involved if the self-harming continued! I know these children, I know ‘Louise’. There is absolutely no risk to her children. The concept of her in any way harming them is utterly inconceivable. (Her words not mine, though i completely support her on this!)
Needless to say: I was seething!
The Problem at Hand
If you have struggled with self-harm or mental illness, you should be able to see the problem with this “professional” opinion. Immediately, by trying to use the children against ‘Louise’ and by threatening her with hospital, the doctor has made things worse. This professional who really should know better has done everything she can to make things worse. Wouldn’t you agree?
The real problem is that we, the self-harming community, cannot promise that we will never do it again. When we get to that place, we cannot necessarily stop ourselves. Sometimes we can, or sometimes other people can stop us but most of the time it doesn’t work that way. Threatening to section her, for want of a better word, if the controlled release of self-harm continued is hardly going to fix the problem! Then for her to take the children and use them as an attempt to convince her to stop, wouldn’t you say that’s even worse?
To add insult to injury, the doctor went through the questions of smoking and drinking and culminated the appointment with the words: “See, you’re a good mum, so you don’t need to do this!” A good mum…I would certainly not dispute that because, especially considering the circumstances, I think she’s a brilliant mum! But to add that sort of guilt trip to an already bad situation is just excessive and unnecessary!
Professional or Unprofessional?
Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve heard of these kinds of experiences. I’ve had it happen to me twice where these “professionals” have treated me in a similar manner. While I was under Home Treatment, the doctor there decided he was going to use my family against me as a means of trying to stop my self-harming. He would ask what they thought of it, how they felt of it, and shouldn’t I stop doing it so that they might feel better? Really? I’ll have the worst experience of my life plus a side order of guilt…how about that?
The other doctor was at my local practice. When I needed my medication changing, I saw her for the first time. I understand she needed to go through a few questions but she went through the entire history, interrogating me as though it was the Spanish Inquisition! When she asked if I had a history of depression, I honestly answered no because this is the first time it’s manifested itself. When she then asked about a history of self-harm and I answered yes – because at that point I was on a better period where it hadn’t happened – she then asked how I could have a history of self-harm without a history of depression. It felt like she was trying to catch me out!
Now, I’m aware that this post comes across as a bit of a rant but, in all honesty, I am angry. I’m also aware that they have their protocols and procedures that they have to go through but is that the be all and end all? When do people get treated as people? Why is this OK? These are professional people that we are meant to turn to when we need support and they leave us feeling like this? Like we’re playing the system or failing at life or generally worse than we actually are? Should anyone be made to feel this way? Should doctors be better trained in the mental health sector so that they have a better understanding of what to say and what not to say?
If I’m being bluntly honest, my experiences with those two doctors nearly drove me straight back to the blade. ‘Louise’ admitted that her experience with that doctor made her want to go and cut herself for a release. I’ll ask again: should a medical professional make a patient feel this way when they are meant to be the professional??
I’d say not!
What about you?
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