The Internet is amazing. Those with OCD and other brain disorders, who previously might have felt so alone, now can connect with others who often easily relate to their struggles. People share their highs and lows, successful and unsuccessful treatment paths, and all kinds of anecdotes. I’ve learned a lot from reading others’ blogs.
A couple of months ago a blogger, who I follow and consider reputable, wrote about her brain disorder and the stigma she has encountered. A common topic, right? Well, usually. What surprised me (though maybe it’s not so surprising to others?) is that the stigma she experienced came from a health care provider. Once the physician (not her regular doctor) saw the medications listed on her records, he decided that her physical complaints were “all in her head.”
An isolated incident? It doesn’t appear so. Since reading that post, I’ve read similar accounts on other blogs, and have even received an email from someone whose visit to the emergency room (for a physical illness) ended with the realization that those with known mental health issues were assigned a different color hospital gown to distinguish them from “normal” patients.
There has been a lot of discussion on these blogs as to how this discrimination should be handled, from switching health care providers, to not seeking help when needed, to filing a complaint (which just might confirm your “craziness”), to lying about what medications you are taking.
This news has been a real eye-opener for me. In my own experience visiting healthcare providers with my son Dan, I never witnessed blatant discrimination. Of course, nobody knows what anyone else is really thinking, but I never felt that any comments made, or actions taken, were questionable. Sure, I have my share of complaints about how Dan was treated, but they are mostly related to what I feel was mistreatment of his OCD specifically, and not due to the stigma of mental illness.
Obviously this information is disturbing on so many levels. I hate that those who need help might not seek it, or might not be treated well. And how unfortunate it is that there are so many dedicated and caring professionals out there who now might not be trusted, or even approached, by people who have had these experiences.
Perhaps what’s most upsetting to me is that I’ve always thought that fighting stigma began with education and awareness. But these health care professionals are supposedly already educated, and already aware, of what various brain disorders entail.
So what do we do now?