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Dear Doctors: Please Don’t Assume What’s Wrong Based on My Mental Health Record

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Medical records can save our lives. In case of emergency, a doctor can access almost everything they need to know before treating you, which may well be the difference between life and death. For that, our medical records are a vital tool to give us better and faster treatment.

However, like many other things, even the best things can become a double-edged sword. I started to seek help for my mental health at the age of 14, up until very recently.

I have no idea exactly what is on my record, but I know there is plenty to say about my suicide attempt, anxiety and depression.

To be honest, this information being there can help me in the sense I only need to fill in the gaps and I don’t need to give every new doctor an essay on my mental health. It’s even helped me transition and navigate through any medication I have needed for my mental health.

But I’ve now found myself fearing the doctors because of my record. I can’t even opt for that fresh start because they can find pages of information about me before I have even introduced myself. A doctor’s first opinion of me is defined by what the last doctor has written.

I remember when I changed my doctor’s surgery because my previous one was so unhelpful that I found myself avoiding treatment altogether. While I was excited to see a new doctor in a new place so I could once again find help for my mental health, it was short lived.

As soon as I sat down, I was playing 20 questions based of my medical record: Why I had that suicide attempt in 2014, why I didn’t turn up for that appointment six months ago (after a huge panic attack, which I tried to explain at the time) and why I decided to leave my last doctor’s surgery. I felt so overwhelmed and pressured that I just wanted to leave.

It had taken everything I had to find the courage to seek help again, and it took two seconds for my confidence to be shot down.

However, I did stick with the new doctor, thinking it would be easier to find the right treatment if they got to know me. Two years down the line and I just felt so exhausted. It was like dealing with a dead end because I was talking to this doctor who only cared about what was on the screen.

Even if I went to the hospital or the outpatients after advice from calling the non-emergency line (because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time), they would spend two seconds listening to my problem before saying “it’s just anxiety.

I have multiple undiagnosed pains and issues that have been ignored after mental health was mentioned. Yet, I didn’t even get a confirmation that was anything other than “it’s probably in your head.” One condition took me a year to heal, and many doctors and appointments later it kept being put down to stress; it turns out, it wasn’t. A lovely doctor took me seriously and after a course of medication, I was fine. I went through such a long time of unnecessary pain because they couldn’t see past my history of anxiety.

If you’ve ever been treated by a new doctor who says they will run this and that to make sure you are OK, for them to then find out your mental health history and decide it’s all in your head, you may know how degrading it can feel. It’s like doctors no longer see me as a patient; they only see me as my mental illness, or from the viewpoint of the last doctor.

I understand that poor mental health can cause many issues — our brains are so powerful and can manifest physical symptoms that are very real — but it hurts for a doctor to decide your fate based on one possibility.

It’s almost as if you are immune to everything else if you have poor mental health.

While I can understand they may be trying to avoid unnecessary tests and save both our time, the effect it’s had on me has only pushed me away from trusting healthcare professionals. Because now, I cannot tell if I need help or if I’m just having a relapse and I am now worried that, one day, it may cost me my life.

I’ve proposed appointments for months, until I am in unbearable discomfort, just because I am worried I will be wasting their time, or be made to feel that way again.

I can’t shake the feeling that when I get ill, I’ll just be told to try a different mental health medication or like I have been told before, be shunned with a shrug and “What do you want me to do about it?”

I just wish a doctor would treat me like they would every other patient before playing the mental health card and assuming I’ve made it all up. Believe me, I wouldn’t be at the doctor unless I really had to be.

Luckily, I have had the blessing of meeting healthcare professionals who treat me like I am human and who made me feel like I deserve help, but they have been few and far between, in my case.

Seeking help shouldn’t be like a lottery.

If you have gone through the procedures you would with a typical patient, and it still comes up with no cause other than possibly mental health related, then I’ll be happy. Just give me a chance to be taken seriously.

After all, a medical record can only give you half a story and my mental illness does not prevent me from becoming ill from something “physical.”

Please, doctors, just take the time to listen and understand your patient; don’t stamp them with the brand of “mental illness” before you know their story from your own point of view. Even if it is our anxiety flaring, being treated with dignity and respect can help us in so many ways, and we’ll know we can seek help in the future rather than avoid it.

Photo by Max Felner on Unsplash

Originally published: December 30, 2018
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