To Anyone in the Medical Field Who Comes Across a Patient With Mental Illness

To anyone working in the medical field who comes across someone with a mental illness,

I am currently working as an licensed practical nurse until I finish and obtain my RN in May of this year. I have learned many things about mental health through school, but most importantly through my own struggles with atypical major depression, anxiety disorder and panic disorder. My background with mental health has given me a passion for learning about the “why” in my nursing studies. This encouraged me to write to my fellow medical field workers, and give them a few pointers that may sometimes be overlooked, but make a world of a difference.

Please don’t refer to them as “the schizophrenic” or “the anorexic” or “the druggie.” You may think you are just identifying your patient, but you are in fact labeling them based on a disorder they did not choose to have. Use terms like “the patient I have with schizophrenia” or “the patient with a substance addiction.” As people with a mental illness, we get labeled every day. I know this is something we learn in school, but don’t put much emphasis on in the workplace. We want to go somewhere safe where we feel not judged by our illness.

Please don’t treat your patient with mental illness any different than your patient with a visible physical illness. Just because you may not be able to understand firsthand, or see the condition, doesn’t mean it does not exist. Most of our struggles are in our head and silent. We may be reluctant to tell you these struggles for fear of being judged, because that is also what we get every day from the general population. Be patient and
empathetic, as we learn to trust and feel comfortable spewing out the thoughts that plague our minds.

Lastly, please don’t look or think of us differently than any other patient. We don’t want a pity party. We want to conquer our demons and overcome our mental illness, just like with a physical illness. Yes, you may talk to us softer or slower so that we understand, but don’t be on edge as though we are going to lash out unpredictably. Reassure us that we aren’t alone. Take time with us just as you would any other patient. Be the support we need.

You have the power to be the tiny glimpse of hope in a patient’s life. Take that seriously.

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Lead photo by Thinkstock Images

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