"Mental health professionals: A patient's retrospective" - Anastasia Vesperman

Before I begin: when I write, I write about my own experiences. Everyone has their own story; this is part of mine.

I want to write as balanced a piece as possible on this topic, but it is worth noting that I have found 7 out of 10 mental health professionals to be unable to cope with me when I am symptomatic, so my view is necessarily biased. Indeed, I have found that 7 out of 10 mental health professionals could be interchangeable with the janitor instead. What I will present here is all personal and anecdotal, and does not reflect the totality of experiences when it comes to mental health professionals.


So, first, good experiences.

My current psychiatrist is the most professional person I have ever met and is an exceptional psychiatrist to boot. Things I particularly like about her:
* She maintains objectivity without seeming too distant or impersonal. No mean feat.
* She is willing to work with me and my carer in a team. We can make suggestions, and are free to trial her ideas and reject them if they are not working for us.
* She can work with me at my most symptomatic. She is patient with me, sympathetic, and very good at cautiously drawing me out in my most paranoid and anxious states.
* Though we mostly talk medication changes these days, she is very capable in terms of psychological (talking) therapies also.

This particular professional is very easy for me to get along with, and her assistance has greatly impacted my recovery in a positive way.

I worked with a mental health nurse for about a year. Not only did we click immediately (our senses of humour were very similar [quite dark, which suits my situation well]), but she was also very skilled in assisting people with my illness. She allowed me to express what I was feeling in the way that I needed to express it (as long as I was not harming anyone), listened carefully to what I said and reflected well, and took extensive histories when we began.

I really miss that nurse's support. I came to look forward to our time together, rather than dreading it, as I have done with other professionals.


Now, a couple of examples of people I have seriously clashed with.

A general practitioner (GP, doctor) I had been seeing told me the I was "a hopeless case". I had been working with him on my mental health issues for about 3 months, and I think he had decided that I should have recovered already.

A GP I once saw told me to "stop crying or get out of my surgery". I'm not even paraphrasing.

A triage nurse wanted to kick me out of the emergency department for crying. She was very aggressive about it, and she frightened me, which made me sob even more. She threatened to get security in.

I was seeing a psychologist who could not cope with some of my behaviours when I was very ill. She would mock me for crying, for becoming dissociated, and for closing my eyes when it all became too much - it was quite literally mockery and mimicry. It was unprofessional behaviour, it was soul-destroying, and it made me feel like I was in the wrong for expressing my feelings.

My carer and I have had crisis teams intervene only once in the history of my illness - and that was only after an actual suicide attempt. Then, each member of the team refused to talk directly to me, and would talk only to my carer, leaving me feeling very powerless and disenfranchised.

Each of these professionals failed to engage with me as a person with a mental illness. They did not act in a manner befitting their profession.

Here is the advice I would give myself, based on these experiences:
* There are very good and very bad mental health professionals out there, as with any profession, and many in the middle. It is (or should be) perfectly acceptable for each person looking to engage with a professional to get a second opinion, and to try out more than one professional to see if they 'click' with them.
* When things do not work out well for you - find out your rights and stick to them! If all you can do is just not see that professional again, so be it. If you can talk to them about it, and you see a change in their behaviour, you may be able to work with them. If you feel able, or have someone who can advocate on your behalf - make a complaint; this could resolve the situation for you, and might improve conditions for people to come after you.
* Mental health professionals are people too, and can make mistakes. But continuing unprofessional behaviour is not on. It needs to be addressed.

Above all, I want other people to have hope that there is a mental health professional out there for you, who will be able to move your recovery along, or support you where you are at. If things don't go okay, it's not necessarily your fault, either - it's worth investigating this idea, to see why you are not getting the support you need.

Best of luck to everyone looking for support! You can do it!