Written by Hannah Blum, author of The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love
Note: Outside of my own name, the names in this post have been changed to respect the individuals who shared this with me. These are real stories.
I want to make it clear regarding this post that I know there are many psychiatrists who work every day with the right intentions. I know there are many great ones. I respect, and I admire these people. This blog post is not to demean psychiatrists or make them feel bad. It’s to wake people up to the truth. It’s to recognize one of the biggest problems with the mental health system.
-John, 38, Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder
I told him (the psychiatrist) about the problems between my father and I. I also said to him that my father had Alzheimer’s and was struggling with it. It made life very difficult for all of us.
My psychiatrist responded with something that put a chill down my spine, “Your father should look into euthanization?” I looked up startled, and he went on to say, “Don’t you think he would be better off dead?” My stomach dropped. I got up and left. It took a couple weeks before I told my brother what happened.
My brother knew I was telling the truth because I may have bipolar, but I don’t lie. He reached out to some of his friends who were lawyers, but all of them agreed that it would be difficult to pursue anything.
At the end of the day, no one would believe me. I’m mentally ill.
-Hannah Blum (Me), 30, Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder
As she pointed to her degree on the wall, she looked at me with anger in her eyes and said, “You see that degree, it means that I am the expert, you’re the mentally ill patient. I know what’s best for you, you don’t.” This was after I told her that I no longer would accept medications that sedated me, and I wanted to have more of a say in my treatment.
In defense of myself, I said back to her, “I don’t give a sh-t about your degree. I live with the mind you so desperately try to figure out, and you treat me with no respect.” She screamed and pointed at the door, “Get out of my office.” She yelled so loudly that other doctors came out of their office. This woman made it seem as if I had threatened to jab a pen in her eye when really I just called her out.
After that experience, I asked every psychiatrist to leave the door slightly open. I even asked some if they could record our conversations. Even if they didn’t they knew by me asking that I was very skeptical which made the experience different.
Blake, 20, Not Diagnosed With Mental Illness
I am a College student. I am 20 years old. In my junior year, I became really depressed and confused like most of us are. I do not have a mental illness, but I still needed help, so I went to see a highly recommended psychiatrist. My mother came with me and sat in the waiting area. At first, the conversation was good with her, and then she asked me, “Have you ever smoked pot (marijuana)?” I thought I was supposed to give her an honest answer, so I told her, “Yes, like most college kids in Cali, I’ve smoked pot a couple times.”
Out of nowhere, her attitude changed. She said, “So you’ve been lying to your mother?” I was so confused. She stood up and stomped into the waiting area and told my mom to come into the session. She did not have my permission to do so. My mother said no, and that she was okay with whatever I said privately. The doctor insisted that she come in.
When my mother came in, the psychiatrist told her that I was a drug addict and that it needed to be addressed. My mother was more in shock of the doctor’s actions than she was of mine. “You have no right to do this!” My mother grabbed me, and we left.
I will never go to a psychiatrist or even a psychologist’s office again. I don’t have a mental illness, but after that experience, I realized what people have to deal with. As someone who doesn’t live with one, I saw it in full. This is the reason I started advocating for mental health.
A Love and Hate Relationship: Psychiatrists and People With Mental Illness
These are only a few of the many stories I’ve been told regarding people’s experience with psychiatrists. If these situations happened to someone with any other disease, the doctor would most likely be fired and face even more severe consequences. He or she could also be taken to court and stripped of their license. Who knows what John’s psychiatrist was insinuating, maybe he was just saying it in passing. Still, I think we can all agree that it’s absolutely inappropriate. I am a mental health blogger and person living with bipolar disorder. Being I am heavily present in the community, I receive messages with stories that would absolutely shock you. I even have some of my own experiences with psychiatrists that are unfortunate. After 5 years of searching, I have found 2 psychiatrists that I love, but it took me too long to find them.
A couple years ago, I was asked to speak with a group of graduate students who were en route to becoming psychiatrists. Here I am, a person with a mental illness telling them what I think would be helpful. When the professor asked if there were any questions, out of 40 students, one raised their hand. One. The majority were looking at their phone. It was so bad that the professor even apologized to me after the talk. Boldly, I told him that if he allowed any of “those students” to become psychiatrists or psychologists that he was doing an injustice. He was shocked by the truth, not uttering a word. I walked away and said out loud to myself, “That’s a problem.” It’s not a little problem, it’s a huge problem.
At one point in my search for proper treatment, I created what I call my “Treat Sheet.” Years after my diagnosis, I became hopeless about treatment. However, I would not give in. I loved life too much to do so. I knew there was a better way, so I kept searching, but this time I decided to go about it differently. I stopped walking into appointments like the underdog and started walking in with way more confidence. I did my research before going in. I wasn’t confident at the time, I was struggling, but I pretended to be secure. Eventually, I did become confident.
The “Treat Sheet” for People With Mental Illness
I created what I call my “Treat Sheet” and brought it into every appointment. I would recommend this to anyone who lives with a mental illness. A sheet of paper that I started handing out to every psychiatrist I saw. This is what my “Treat Sheet” looks like.
When I shared it with the psychiatrist, I would tell them, “If you don’t think you can help me get to the other side of the sheet, then let’s not waste each other’s time.” It hit one psychiatrist’s ego so hard that he balled up the paper and threw it in the trash basket. He told me it was disrespectful. It wasn’t, it just required him to make an effort, and he would have to release control a little bit. I made it clear that I would work with them and experiment. I did. Trial after trial. I took my meds at the same time every day. After four weeks, if I didn’t feel better, I would walk right back in. It took a long time, but it was worth it.
So how can psychiatrists who act in such a manner in a dignified profession get away with it? Well, remember, if you live with a mental illness, you are silenced by stigma. Do you think anyone is going to believe me, someone with bipolar, over a psychiatrist? No. Imagine sitting across from someone who has the power to give you life or take it away. If a psychiatrist threw materials off of their desk and started shouting at the top of their lungs, they could easily say I came after them violently. I would probably be thrown into a mental institution without hesitation. It’s the harsh reality of the mental health system, and it needs to be exposed. This is not just for psychiatrists, this can be done by anybody at any time.
Imagine if part of the reason you did not seek treatment was that you were scared of the people who were in charge of treating you.
5 Things We Need Psychiatrists To Do
I want to share 5 things that we need from psychiatrists and future psychiatrists.
We need you to listen and treat us as an individual.
My mind cannot be found in a textbook. I’m a person with a vibrant personality who wants to contribute to society in a big way. Look me in the eyes when you speak to me. Treat me like a human, because that’s precisely what I am. Listen to me.
We need you to work with us, not above us.
If I could tell you the number of times I have heard psychiatrists speak stigmatized and demeaning statements about people with mental illness, you would be horrified. I don’t look like the “stereotypical person with mental illness” so out at social events or conferences, people talk openly. In fact, when I first go up to people, I do not tell them I have bipolar because I want to hear the truth about what they think. Statements such as, “I had this one nut…” Please treat us with respect.
We need you to advocate for us.
Whose side are you on? Are you going to fight for more research to help treat us, or are you going to sit in your office and keep writing out prescriptions that you know could be better? Would you stay on a medication that made you drool? Once I literally woke up in a pool of milk and fruit loops. Is that a life? No, it’s not. Here’s the thing, I know that psychiatrists know that there is a significant problem. I see many who are fighting and opening up online about it, which gives me hope. We want you to prove that you are in this for the right reasons. We are dying off one by one, and you have the power to change that, so do it.
We need you to tell us that it is going to be okay.
I have been to a lot of psychiatrists, and at the mental hospital probably I saw around ten-fifteen different ones. No one ever looked at me and said something even close to, “It’s going to be okay, Hannah” or “We will get there.” Even in the times, I sat crying in the chair, telling the doctor that I had no hope for treatment. They never even once looked up at me. Not once. We need you to help us get the resources we need, to offer us inspiration, to tell us that we are going to be okay.
We need you to choose a new profession if your heart is not in this one.
If your heart is not in it, if you are not passionate about it, if you don’t want to do more for people with a mental illness, do us all a favor and get the hell out of this profession. There is a movement on the rise, and mental health advocates are beginning to gain more power every single day. If you are in this for the wrong reasons and think your degree will keep you safe, you are wrong.
To treat me correctly, you need to get to know me. We need you, but always remember, you need us too. Treat us with the respect we deserve and give us hope.
A Note to the Good Ones
To all the incredible psychiatrists out there, thank you. We need more of you. You have my support, love, and respect. I am so grateful to each one of you.
To my psychiatrists, Liz and Caroline, thank you for giving me life. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for working with me and not against me. You are the reason I am where I am today. If there were more psychiatrists like you, more people with mental illness would be living the life they deserve. I love you with all my heart.
At the age of 20, Hannah Blum went from Prom Queen to a mental patient in the blink of an eye, but what she believed would be the end was only just the beginning. In her first book, The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love, Hannah Blum redefines what it means to love yourself and takes readers on an unforgettable journey towards embracing what makes them different.