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What I Want Mental Health Professionals to Know About the Power They Hold

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

Dear You, the potentially amazing person who could change a life,

I want to take this opportunity to write to you on behalf of mental health patients, to explain to you how much you mean to us, how your actions can save our lives… or, in some cases, break them.

We understand your jobs must be very stressful, that you have undergone so much training to get where you are today and sometimes it must be easy to get bogged down — to stop seeing patients as individuals as you see so many and have to keep up with so many stories, so many cases and lives and that cannot be easy.

To those of you out there who speak to us like individuals, who take the time, don’t rush us out the door, don’t try and talk over us or push our own thoughts and feelings to one side to give us your own, who show empathy and compassion, ask us what we think, and listen – really listen — we commend you.

We are so grateful to you wonderful professionals who take the time to help us. When we come to you, we often feel embarrassed, ashamed, confused and vulnerable and so when we are made to feel at ease by you and you offer a hand we have been so desperate for, it means the absolute world. Maybe even more than you could ever understand if you have never been affected by mental illness yourself. Some of us have been through this process many times, have seen many doctors and health professionals, poured our hearts out time and time again only to have it overlooked. So, sometimes we may come to you with our guard already up, fight you before you have even introduced yourself and before we have even given you a chance, but please understand this is because we have been in battle with ourselves and in battle with the system for so long that it feels like we will never find anyone to be any different. This is why it means so much when you, the potentially amazing person with the chance to change a life, comes along. It literally can mean our lives and I can guarantee, if you are that amazing person, you will never ever be forgotten and you will be appreciated more than you know. Even if at times we may not show it, the fact we trust you speaks volumes.

Unfortunately, not all are amazing; I have often wondered why some healthcare professionals chose their careers. I am unsure why someone would choose to be in a caring profession, especially someone with more authority such a psychiatrist, if they seemingly dislike dealing with patients with mental health issues. In the same way, I would question why someone would choose to be a chef if they hated cooking.

I can speak on behalf of me and many others who I have spoken to over the years when I say that words can make or break a person whilst someone is extremely vulnerable. They can literally save a life or quite literally destroy it. It may sound extreme but that is the power you hold in your hands and you may not even realize it at the time. To those who use that power wisely, you deserve so much recognition and thanks; to those who don’t, I am hoping you will maybe rethink how you view and treat your patients — that you may hear what you are saying to this human being, not just another case in front of you, and ask yourself whether you really believe what you are saying is right.

For example, I really hope the psychiatrist who told me after a suicide attempt that my problem was that my life was “boring, empty and pointless” has thought about that since and realized he shouldn’t have spoken to me that way. I hope the psychiatrist who told me self-harm was “child’s play” and questioned me as to why I hadn’t actually attempted to kill myself and asked “didn’t I like that kind of attention” has, at some point in his career, either been pulled up or looked at himself in the mirror and realized he is harming patients with comments like that.

Those examples are just the tip of my iceberg. They are just me. One person. I have heard some terrible stories — stories where comments from people who hold the power to change someone’s life have destroyed it in one moment and made them suicidal — the straw that broke the camel’s back, if you will.

I wonder how these things are allowed to happen. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to challenge the system when making complaints, especially when vulnerable. Believe me, I have tried.

On the other turn of the coin, the ones who go above and beyond, who show care and massive amounts of compassion – you are the diamonds, the shining stars for which we all search. Sometimes the search for a star like you can feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. It becomes just as tedious and feels just as hopeless, but for those of us who find the fight to keep searching (because unfortunately, many lose that hope and that fight), it’s a very special moment when we find you. You probably don’t even realize it but inside we feel like we have found gold. Finally, someone who cares; finally, someone who wants to listen and we value you and what you do so much. Thank you.

The sad thing is, all of you have the chance to be a diamond — to be the star we are searching for. We understand you are human, and everyone has bad days. You are not immune to that, but on a day-to-day basis holding the power in your hands, you have the chance to be the star we have been desperately searching for. Some just seemingly never set out with that goal, or maybe lost sight of it along the way somewhere, I am not sure.

Please just treat us as individuals, listen and be kind. That’s all we ask for. That’s all we want most of the time when we are in a bad place and so have had to come and see you. Please don’t belittle us or just hand us medication without talking to us first. Definitely don’t tell us things along the lines of self-harm being attention seeking or that we have wasted people’s time… and worse things I have heard. Imagine this person sitting in front of you was your daughter, son, wife or husband, whoever it may be, and ask yourself what you would feel if someone was saying those things to someone you loved. If you would be angry then please question why you are saying it to patients within your care.

To all you amazing people, the mental health professionals who change lives, thank you.

To the others who have said things that should have never been said, I am sure you already know this deep down, and I hope you rethink the way you are treating vulnerable people. You have the potential to be amazing, to do something amazing, so please take it. You literally have the power to make or break the person sat in front of you, to help or to hinder, and all it takes is the right choice of words and the right approach.

Thank you to those who have changed my life and thank you on behalf of all the other people who have found their diamonds.

There are so many still searching, so to you, the person with the potential to be amazing and change a life, the next patient you come in to contact with – please be theirs.

Yours sincerely,

Mental health patients everywhere.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Originally published: December 27, 2018
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